How to Avoid Plagiarizing
This page describes various types of plagiarism and provides advice for avoiding the behaviors that often lead to accusations of plagiarism.
One of the reasons a great deal of attention is being paid to plagiarism is that the internet makes plagiarizing easy to do. Students can quickly copy information found on the web, paste it into a word-processing document and hand it in as if it were their words and ideas. Students should realize that faculty have at their disposal tools to help detect when a student has plagiarized. Online services like SafeAssign, a component of Blackboard Learn, or even just performing a Google search on selected phrases can often reveal when a student has "borrowed" someone else's content without providing the proper credit. As a result, students need to recognize that although it may be much easier to plagiarize today than it was in the past, technology makes it easier to get caught.
The definition for plagiarism at Kent State is:
“To take and present as one's own a material portion of the ideas or words of another or to present as one's own an idea or work derived from an existing source without full and proper credit to the source of the ideas, words, or works.”
This definition does not mention intent. As a result, students who plagiarize unintentionally are subject to the same sanctions as students who plagiarize deliberately. If a student gets confused and forgets to credit a quoted or paraphrased source or otherwise does not give "full and proper credit to the source," he or she may face a charge of plagiarism. Students hope that if they could convince the instructor that the plagiarism was not intentional, the sanction would be less severe. However, this is not the case. The policy allows instructors to choose whichever sanction they deem appropriate regardless of the students' intentions. Therefore, students should double or triple check how they credit the sources they use for important assignments like term papers.
When using specific information, such as facts, figures, statistics, etc., it is always a good idea to provide a source for that type of information. Even though students may feel that they know the information, unless that information is "common knowledge" (something others in the class and certainly the instructor would know), there are two good reasons to look for a source for the information:
- If the instructor is not familiar with the fact, figure, or statistic, he or she will likely wonder where the student got the information. Any time an instructor becomes suspicious, there is a chance the suspicion will lead the instructor to investigate for possible plagiarism. As a general rule, it is never good for a student to cause an instructor to question whether a student is using his or her own words in an assignment.
- The information might be incorrect or outdated. For the sake of good research, the student should find an independent, reliable source to confirm that the information is correct.
The advice here is that no matter how confident the student is that the type of information provided is correct, if it is questionable that the information is common knowledge, the student should seek another source to cite and confirm that the information is accurate.
The learning process involves gaining information in many ways. Students learn from instructors during class; they learn from each other in group assignments; they learn things as a result of talking with friends and family. Still, students often have difficulty understanding that, regardless of where or how the information is obtained, if unique knowledge is passed on in a less-than-traditional fashion,. the student needs to provide credit for the source. Typically, students expect to obtain information from sources such as:
- Journals and magazines
- Web pages
However, if a student learns of something that is not "common knowledge" from other types of sources, such as:
- a conversation with a relative
what the student learns should be credited to the source, even if it is a result of a conversation. Students may avoid crediting something someone told them for a couple of reasons:
- Since they are expected to use traditional sources (like those listed above), students may feel that citing a conversation with a relative is not the type of source an instructor will take seriously. But if that relative happens to be an expert or someone with direct experience with a particular subject, an instructor may well view that person as a citable source.
- Often students do not know how to cite a non-traditional source, such as those listed above. Style guides (like MLA and APA) do not discuss how to cite a relative. Those guides do discuss citing interviews. In addition, without applying a style, students can simply add a citation stating that the information was obtained when talking with the source. While an instructor may deduct points for improper style, improper citation format is not sufficient grounds to justify a plagiarism charge.
The definition for plagiarism at Kent State University does not qualify what types of sources must be cited and which ones do not. ALL types of sources should be given "full and proper credit." So although information that is gathered from a non-traditional source is not as easy to document as plagiarism when compared to copying passages from a published work, instructor suspicion can lead to a charge of plagiarism, which will be followed by an investigation. Regardless of possible outcomes during a formal investigation, the ethical obligation to cite sources remains.
Although not defined as "double-dipping" in the policy, this term is used to describe another behavior that is subject to the same sanctions as plagiarism. Double-dipping is re-using assignments or (according to the policy) "a substantial portion of a piece of work previously submitted for another course." The university expects all students to hand in original work for each class. If a student takes an assignment (such as a term paper) and simply hands it in for a grade in a subsequent class without discussing the fact that the assignment was used for a previous course, if caught, the student may be subject to the same sanctions as if he or she plagiarized. The policy does not clearly define "a substantial portion," so students should be very careful about re-using parts of previously handed-in assignments and discuss this with their instructor before handing in the assignment.
The last bit of advice for students concerned about avoiding plagiarism or even the appearance of plagiarism, is to seek help. If a student questions himself or herself about something in an assignment (that may constitute plagiarism) he or she should show his or her instructor the assignment and talk about his or her concerns before handing in that assignment. If there is no time to meet with the instructor, the campus Writing Center or the library are good resources to help students determine whether or not their writing might be plagiarized. Students who ask for help and show concern about avoiding plagiarism are much less likely for be accused.