Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is plagiarism and how to avoid it?

Academic Integrity is a huge topic. The Empire State College Academic Integrity website has a great deal of information about it, including expectations for students and the consequences for violating academic integrity.

What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is using someone else's original work and misrepresenting it as your own. It can mean using their words or only their ideas (paraphrasing.) Even if you cite the original work, it can still be plagiarism. And obviously if you copy entire paragraphs or even more from someone else's work, it is a serious case of plagiarism!

How can it be that you can cite your source and still be plagiarizing? Citing your sources is to let your reader track your information back to its source and to give credit where it's due, but it is not an excuse for substituting someone else's ideas or words for your own! Obviously you will have to build your ideas upon the ideas of others, and that is where you cite. But if your paper merely jumps from one borrowed idea to another, and doesn't revolve around your own original thought, then it is a waste of time. That kind of reporting is acceptable as a learning exercise, but it is not what college faculty intend when they assign a research or term paper.

As for quoting, you should keep it to a minimum. Think of it as a convenience for a reader. Sometimes you want to point out that a person who is a leader in their field has said something that supports your point. Other times, someone else has said something so perfectly that any other way you phrased it would be inadequate. Those are the times to quote and cite - when you want your reader to experience the original wording without having to go look it up for themselves. The rest of the time, you should paraphrase (and cite.)

You can also plagiarize yourself. If you reuse an old paper for a new class without explicit permission from your instructor, it is a violation of academic integrity because the assumption is you will be researching and writing something new as a learning experience that makes the course you are taking valuable, and as a way of accurately representing your current knowledge, skills, and dedication.

Empire State College faculty make use of a plagiarism detection tool called This allows them to submit a student's paper (in a way that protects both copyright and privacy) to a database that then tries to match it with content from the Internet, paper mills, reference resources, and more. If there is a text match, the professor is shown where it comes from and can begin to talk to the student about academic integrity and consequences.

We are aware that students rarely commit plagiarism intentionally, and that when they do, it is often an act of desperation. If you are having academic difficulty, there are resources for you to turn to:
Questions? Ask a Librarian

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