19 Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding Plagiarism

Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Yelin Zhao

In every part of culture, But especially in the academic world, plagiarism (the unauthorized or uncredited use of someone else’s ideas or words) is a very serious offense, and can result in devastating career and social consequences. Simply Googling the phrase “plagiarism scandal” will reveal many cases of individuals (including U.S. vice presidents) who were caught plagiarizing, sometimes in relatively minor ways, and suffered serious consequences.

Plagiarism is wrong and is taken so seriously because it can be considered both dishonesty and theft. When you use someone else’s ideas or words in your work and do not provide credit, you are essentially claiming that those ideas and words were written by you. Therefore, you are lying about the source of the words, & receiving credit for another’s work.

Plagiarism of Ideas

Plagiarism of ideas is the use of another’s ideas without providing credit. Determining what counts is plagiarism of ideas can be very tricky, especially when riding in another culture. In many ways, plagiarism of ideas can be more dangerous than plagiarism of words, because it is less straightforward and is easier to do accidentally. This typically occurs for two reasons.

  • Students believe that information is common knowledge and does not need to be cited.
    • What can be considered ‘common knowledge’ varies widely based on your audience. As we have mentioned throughout this textbook, understanding your audience is absolutely essential to writing successfully and avoiding plagiarism.
    • To use the example earlier, the fact that the United States of America was founded in 1776 is generally known by many Americans (and probably others around the world). However, in an article written for American history experts, this information is clearly general knowledge and does not need citing. On the other hand, in an article written in the field of soil sciences, this may be much less likely known, and may need citation, especially because the reason for giving this information may be found in a specific text (e.g. a law regarding farms was passed when America was founded).
    • In addition to the problem of determining what is common knowledge, I have seen many students provide facts and information which may be commonly known and accepted, but it is simply untrue. For example, one student mentioned that Arabic contains Millions more words than English, which is simply not true (in fact, English may have more words in Arabic). This is a commonly-held belief, especially among Arabic speakers, and while the student’s claimed did not count as plagiarism, the fact that no credit was given indicated that the claim may not be based on reality, and also caused the instructor to believe the student had given someone else’s information as their own.
  • Students read an outside source, learn something from it, then give this information without citation.
    • Reading is often an essential part of writing, especially academically, and we can strengthen our arguments by supporting them with the works of others. However, it is always necessary to give credit for someone else’s ideas, even if you read them briefly. When you learned information which supports your argument, you must give credit to the author for this information.

Considering the consequences of plagiarism, it is much better to be safe when you are unsure about what is common knowledge, and find a reliable source, then cite their information.

Plagiarism of Words

Plagiarism of words is more straightforward. This involves using words or information (no matter how small the amount) from someone else’s work without providing credit. There are many softwares such as (turnitin.com) which can search the entire internet and compare students work with other published works and report similarities. Remember that is not wrong to use outside sources, and doing so is actually very important too much academic writing. However, it is essential that credit is given when any information is taken from outside sources.

  • Note that anytime you paraphrase or quote directly, you must provide a page number for the location of the original words in the text, both to give credit, and to direct readers to that information if they want to find it for themselves.



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Avoiding Plagiarism by Ho'omana Nathan Horton and Yelin Zhao is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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