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Writing and Citing: Help with Research Papers

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" Albert Einstein

What is Plagiarism? How can I avoid it?

What is Plagiarism? 

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to "plagiarize" means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.

Reprinted with permission from:

NGTC's Plagiarism Policy

From the NGTC College Catalog, Student Affairs Section, under Academic Misconduct:

"Plagiarism is prohibited. Plagiarism is the taking, using, quoting, and/or re-writing of another’s words, statements, or ideas without giving credit to the original author; in other words, it is literary theft. Plagiarism is also defined as the purchase of an entire work, such as an essay, from an outside source and submitting it as original work. Students who are found to have committed blatant plagiarism will receive a grade of “F” for the course; the penalty for accidental plagiarism may include a grade of zero on the assignment."     

Students need to familiarize themselves with what constitutes plagiarism. Some (but not all) examples follow:

   1. Quoting one or more passages from a source and failing to cite (give credit to) the original author(s)

   2. Paraphrasing one or more passages from an outside source and failing to cite (give credit) the original author(s)

   3. Purchasing an assignment and submitting it as the student’s own work

   4. Having another person write the assignment for the student and then submitting it as the student’s original work

   5. Copying and pasting outside material into a document without giving proper credit to the original author(s)

   6. Keyboarding information from an outside source and submitting it as original work OR failing to give credit to the original author(s)

Plagiarism can be further categorized into blatant plagiarism and accidental plagiarism.

   Some (but not all) examples of blatant plagiarism include:

      1. Willfully and blatantly copying sections of another’s work and submitting it as the student’s own

      2. Purchasing the work from another and submitting it as original work

      3. Using a work that has been previously submitted for a grade in another class without asking consent from the current instructor

Students committing blatant plagiarism will face disciplinary action up to and including failure of the course.

   Some (but not all) examples of accidental plagiarism include:

      1. Failing to include the parenthetical documentation at the end of the quote or paraphrase

      2. Failing to include a source on the Works Cited page

The penalty for committing accidental plagiarism is at the instructor’s discretion but may include receiving a zero on the assignment.