What is plagiarism and how to avoid it in academic writing

Jun 03, 2013
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, plagiarism is "an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author." The definition covers a broad range of different ways that you can steal the contents of someone's work, and unfortunately, also can include ideas that may not even be put on paper yet. There are ways of avoiding unwittingly taking someone else's work, and not putting yourself into a bad position as well.
If you are caught stealing someone else's work, words, or ideas, it is the same as theft of any other kind, just not as tangible. There are times when you can steal someone's words and not even be aware, but can face consequences for it. With so much information available on the internet, it has become a haven for theft of content. Many individuals will literally take word for word from other sources and give no mention, or thought, to pilfering from others. To avoid using content that belongs to another, there are ways to protect yourself.

How do you give credit to another's work when you use it?

When you use someone's work in your own academic writing, you must cite them and give them credit for it. There are several ways of citing works used. Different colleges, academia, and research articles will have varying standards of how research is to be displayed when used. There is APA format, Harvard, or a series of other ways in which you can acknowledge other's ideas or thoughts. Many people are under the false impression that if they just change a couple of words around, it isn't plagiarism. That isn't the case, even when you paraphrase what you have written, you are taking the ideas of someone else and ascribing your name to it.
If you use another source of information and intend to use the information to substantiate a claim you are making, you have to include a works cited page that gives the full reference of where you got the information. Even if you don't quote it word for word, you should include it in your reference page. If you want to use it as evidence, it is best to use the exact words and put it into quotation marks, instead of attempting to rearrange words or paraphrase. Using the straight source is one way of guaranteeing that you are not plagiarizing any other work.
By putting the words into quotation marks, you are giving credit to the originating source. If you find the source being used in a second hand synopsis, instead of quoting from the second hand source, it is always best to go back to the originating article, or work, and quote directly from it, using the original in your works cited page. Using second hand sources is never a good way to use information, and can get you into trouble if the secondhand article didn't quote it accurately, or sufficiently. If you are going to use a source from someone else, it is your responsibility to follow up and take it one step further to verify the information before using it, or trusting it's credibility.

When do you need to cite information?

The times when you need to give accolades to another's work is:
  • When you use exact words in your work, you need to add quotation marks and a works cited page
  • If you paraphrase any information from another source, it is best to give credence to it by adding a phrase pointing to the originating source such as, "according to..." or "as reported by...". When presenting it this way, it must also be included in your works cited page
  • There are times when including a separate "works consulted", or "reference" page can be helpful in covering your information and giving the proper acknowledgement to another source
Paraphrasing is a way of taking information that you have read and summarizing it. Just because you are putting it into your own, different words and phrasing, does not then make it your words. The idea is still that of another individual, or work. When you are summarizing the information from somewhere else, you have to include it in your paper to use it, or it is considered plagiarism.

What are the ways in which professors can tell if you have plagiarized another work?

Although in academia you are on the honor system to not plagiarize, there are ways in that your paper can be checked to be sure that it is your original work. If you include a reference, or works cited page, it is possible for the professors to look up the original work and compare to make sure you have properly given acknowledgement. Many students and academic writers make the wrong assumption that if they don't cite the work, or add link to it, it won't be discovered. The truth is that it is not hard to research through the information available and see if you are wrongly using information as your own, if it is not.
There are programs such as "copyscape" that can search the web, including academic papers and research, to find if you have copied someone else's work. The professors are able to take your work and compare it against everything that has ever been written on the internet to match three words in a row to signal that you have stolen someone else's work. In this age of technology, stealing something from another, will be caught.
If you are going to use someone else's ideas, thoughts, research, or information, you must give them proper credit by acknowledging them in your work. Even if you are only using a portion, not quoting, or disagreeing with what they have said, you need to mention them in your work. If you aren't careful, you can unwittingly use another's work illegally, which can have very disastrous consequences for you both professionally, and academically.
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By Martha Buckly. Martha is a good freelance writer and loves sharing posts on different topics including tips and guidelines for articles and academic writing. Her professional experience helps to create interesting and useful material.
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