LEOLEO: Literacy Education Online

Plagiarism


When writers intentionally or unintentionally present another person's words, ideas, or work as their own, they are committing plagiarism. Most students know that passing off another individual's paper as their own is plagiarism. However, fewer students understand that accidentally including someone else's sentence in their writing without quotation marks and a reference is plagiarism, too.

For several important reasons, you must reference the original work and author in your writing whenever you:

First, effectively integrating source material from the experts with your own ideas and accurately referencing that source material can lend support to the argument in your paper and credibility to your reputation as a maturing professional in your field. Second, providing complete references enables readers who are interested in your topic to find out more about your research, easily. Third, just as you expect to receive credit for your work, other authors expect and deserve credit for theirs.

And finally, neglecting to correctly acknowledge material from outside sources in your writing is plagiarism--a violation of St. Cloud State University's Code of Conduct that can result in serious academic consequences. In some cases, plagiarism can have legal consequences as well.

The following suggestions may help you avoid plagiarism:

Become Informed

I didn't know! is not an acceptable excuse for plagiarism. Find out what style of documentation you should use by asking your professor or checking your class syllabus. Then, learn the rules for using that documentation style accurately. MLA, developed by the Modern Language Association, and APA, developed by the American Psychological Association, are the most common documentation styles. Both organizations publish books about their rules for documentation. The Write Place has current copies of these books for your use in the writing center, as well as handouts about MLA and APA that you can take with you. The SCSU library also has a variety of documentation resources for checkout.

In addition to knowing the rules for documenting outside sources, you must also understand how to effectively integrate outside source material in your writing. If you have questions about, paraphrasing, quoting, or other ways to use outside sources, visit the Write Place to pick up handouts or schedule an appointment for one-on-one assistance. You might also speak to your professor or purchase a writing handbook that includes advice, explanations, and examples.


Plan Ahead

Although this may seem like common sense, writers often leave writing tasks until the last minute, perhaps because they don't have enough time, they don't manage the time they do have effectively, or they just aren't looking forward to the tasks. Procrastination can lead to panic, and panic can cause writers to use poor judgment with regard to plagiarism.

Start researching your topic right away and carry a notebook or paper with you so you can jot down your ideas and notes about how to support your ideas with information from your sources. That way, if your mind goes blank when you sit down at a computer, you'll have material to draw from, and the desire to copy someone else's words, ideas, or work will seem less tempting.

Remember, too, that your professors are in the business of words, ideas, and people. They'll most likely notice the change in your writing if you copy from an outside source without referencing it. Moreover, by talking with you about your topic, they'll probably discover when you've tried to present someone else's ideas as your own. In addition, if you've copied part or all of your paper from the Internet, your professors will easily be able to locate the original text by using an Internet search engine.


Take Accurate and Complete Notes

Oops! is not an acceptable excuse for plagiarism, either. As you research your topic, make sure you clearly indicate in your notes which ideas are your own and which ideas are quoted or paraphrased from other sources. If you quote something from another source, copy it exactly the way it appears and put it in quotation marks. If you paraphrase something from another source, make sure you use all of your own words. Don't just change a few words in the sentence to make it look a little different--that's plagiarism!

In addition, if you've quoted or paraphrased an outside source, carefully record which source the material comes from and all the information needed for referencing that source. You won't want to try to retrace your path to an Internet site or run back to the library the night before your paper is due just because you forgot to write down the necessary information the first time. As you research, you may even want to build a numbered list of all the sources you encounter and then number your notes from each source accordingly. However, no one right way exists for taking notes about research, so develop a system that works for you. The Write Place has handouts about note taking that may help get you started.


© 2000-2004 The Write Place
LEO: Literacy Education Online
This page was created by Donella Westphal, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN; it may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the names of the writers; if you revise it, please add your name(s) to the list of writers.

Last update: 26 May 2004

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/research/plagiarism.html