Often students are cautioned not to plagiarize when writing an essay. But what does this really mean?
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. See our section on citation for more information on how to cite sources properly. http://www.plagiarism.org/plag_article_what_is_plagiarism.html
According to the Purdue OWL Writing Lab, there are three primary culprits of plagiarism, summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting.
- Summarizing is the act of rewriting the main ideas of an original source in a more concise fashion. Often some of the original language is retained.
- Paraphrase is the process of putting a passage from source material into your own words. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly. Paraphrases also help one shape the meaning from the text to one’s specific project.
- Direct Quote is the process of taking language word for word from source material.
Whether you are summarizing, paraphrasing, or using a direct quote, YOU MUST ALWAYS cite your source using an IN-TEXT citation. Referencing the material in a bibliography at the end of the essay is not enough. Continue on to learn more about in-text citations.