Friday, October 11, 2013

Avoid Unintentional Plagiarism

Plagiarism is theft, whether intentional or not.  Don't be a thief!
Don't be an intellectual thief: Cite your sources!

Plagiarism is intellectual theft, the act of taking someone else's words and ideas and passing them off as one's own.  Plagiarism can be either intentional or unintentional.  Unintentional plagiarism differs from intentional plagiarism in that the plagiarizer plagiarizes without knowing he or she has done it.

Whether a specific act of plagiarism is intentional or unintentional, however, is generally difficult to prove, and the punishment for academic dishonesty at a college or university will generally be severe. In the professional world, an employee or writer who plagiarizes could be fired or even sued.

So, how does a writer prevent unintentional plagiarism?  A writer avoids unintentional plagiarism by taking careful notes from sources, using attributed source content only where necessary to support a main idea, and by carefully adhering to the required documentation style guide.

Avoid Plagiarism by Taking Careful Notes from Sources

"Taking careful notes from sources" means writing a full source description even before writing down your first summary, paraphrase, or quotation from the source.  Jot down the author or authors, publication date, title, publication information, publisher information, editor information, page numbers, DOI number, call number, URL, and any other identifying information for that source.  In addition to reminding you to check your source for authority and timeliness, writing down the source description information guarantees you will be able to cite your source both in the text of your paper and at the end of your paper in your bibliographic entries.  If you need additional information, writing down a full description will allow you to find that source, again.

Furthermore, when you jot down supporting statements from a given source, be sure you can match that information with the source, not just the author, but the specific article and page or even the paragraph number.  That guarantees you will be able to ethically cite the source in the text of the paper and attribute the words or ideas to the original author.  Whether using a quotation, summarizing,  or even paraphrasing someone else's words, those words or ideas must be cited.  The rule is "If you can't remember where you found it, don't try to use it."  Therefore, you should always make sure you can remember where you found something so that you can use it.

Avoid Plagiarism by Using Attributed Source Content Only Where Necessary to Support a Main Idea

When writing, you should use source content only when that source content supports one of your own main ideas.  A paragraph in a literature paper, for example, that simply reports information about a poet seemingly has no purpose other than to fill space.  The entire paragraph would be source content, and every sentence would need attribution and in-text citations.

On the other hand, a writer who starts with his or her own idea has a much easier time getting to the point, and a much easier time avoiding plagiarism.  For example, a paragraph that begins with the original main idea that a poet lived a difficult life and therefore wrote difficult poetry might need only one or two pieces of source evidence that support the idea that the poet lived a difficult life.  In the rest of the paragraph, the writer could point out the similarities between the poet's life and her poetry.  Of course, if the entire idea came from someone else, passing this idea off as one's own would still constitute plagiarism.  The writer has to ask himself or herself, "Did I know this or think this before I read it someplace else?"

As stated above, words and ideas that belong to someone else must be pointed out to the the reader of a paper when and where they occur, not just at the end of the paper on a bibliographic page.  Let me say that, again: Within a paper, a writer must point out the specific words or ideas that came from someone else.   Quotation marks and transitional words like "According to" and "So and So states" become exceptionally important, as do parenthetical citations.  Those shortened citations will all match up to the longer bibliographic descriptions on the bibliographic page at the end of a paper.

Carefully Adhere to the Required Documentation Style Guide

Some common documentation styles include Turbian, American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Style, and Associated Press (AP).  Whenever a writer, whether a professional or student, creates a document that includes research, the writer will adhere to the guidelines set forth by the appropriate or assigned style guide in order to effectively and consistently cite sources.  If you are unsure which documentation style to use, ask your professor or publisher.

An Example of How to Avoid Plagiarism

Take a look at the following process as an example of how to ethically cite your sources and avoid plagiarism:

1. Sarah decides to write a paper about the dangers of allowing pre-adolescent children to play "Grand Theft Auto V."

2. Sarah has seen the game and knows that it is violent.  She jots down a topic sentence on her outline that states, "Parents should not allow pre-adolescent children to play 'Grand Theft Auto V' because exposure to this violent video game can cause children to behave more violently."  In order to support her point she needs more scientific information about children's behavior after exposure to this type of content, so she does some research.

3. Sarah comes across a journal article that supports her hypothesis that when children play violent video games, they exhibit more violent behavior.  She write down all of the information she can about this article.

Title: Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review

Authors: Craig A. Anderson, Nobuko Ihori, Brad J. Bushman, Hannah R. Rothstein, Akiko Shibuya,  Edward L. Swing, Akira Sakamoto, Muniba Saleem.

Date: 2010

Publisher: American Psychological Association, Published in Psychological Bulletin Vol. 136, No. 2, pgs. 151–173

DOI: 10.1037/a0018251

4. Sarah take a few notes from the article, and then she comes across the exact result she wants to use to support her topic sentence.  She writes it down exactly as it is stated in the article, and she makes sure to place quotation marks around it and record the page number where it was found:  "Regardless of research design or conservativeness of analysis, exposure to violent video games was significantly related to higher levels of aggressive behavior" (pg. 16).

5. She chooses to draft her paragraph as follows using the APA documention style because the paper is for her Introduction to Psychology class:

Parents should not allow pre-adolescent children to play "Grand Theft Auto V" because exposure to this violent video game can cause children to behave more aggressively.  That the game contains violent content is undeniable.  The game's rating makes it clear the game is only for mature players with its "M" for mature rating.  Unfortunately, not all parents understand that exposure to this violence within the game can affect their children's behaviors.  In a research study published in Psychological Bulletin in 2010, the researchers found that "Regardless of research design or  conservativeness of analysis, exposure to violent video games was significantly related to higher  levels of aggressive behavior" (Anderson et. al., p. 16).  The suggestion that parents not allow children to play "Grand Theft Auto V" is not merely an opinion, but rather, this study's results show that the game can change children's behaviors.

6. At the end of the paper, Sarah creates an APA references page and includes the following complete documentation details for her source.  The entry is formatted according to her school's APA style manual.  Notice that the name she uses in her in-text citation matches the first name listed for the article.

The  required elements for the references page includes the following: Authors (up to 6 & et. al.). (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Journal, Vol(Issue), page number. doi:

Anderson, C. A., Ihori, N., Bushman, B. J., Rothstein, H. R., Shibuya, A.,  & Swing, E. L. et. al. 2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: A meta-analytic review.  Psychological Bulletin 136 (2), 151-173. doi:10.1037/a0018251

The final references page entry looks like the following:

Sample APA References Entry for A Journal Article with Multiple Authors


No matter which style guide a student or professional writer uses, however, one thing remains the same: It is never ethical to take the words or ideas of another person and use them as though they were one's own.  Plagiarism, whether on purpose or on accident, is theft, and it will be dealt with as such.   Always be sure to take the proper precautions to be sure you aren't committing this dishonest act.

Want to learn more about writing essays?  

Want to learn more about writing essays?  Try my complete online essay writing course on called "Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing."  Use the coupon code link to get 50% off the regular price of the course. Receive a certificate of completion when you've finished!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the writer for permission to reuse.

No comments:

Post a Comment