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Grad. Studies Home

Avoiding Plagiarism

What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using another person's ideas or words without acknowledging the fact that those ideas/words came from someone else. Whether intentional or accidental, it is a serious academic crime.

See the ACADEMIC INTEGRITY STATEMENT for Lincoln University's graduate program policy on plagiarism and other acts of academic dishonesty.

When Do I Need To Include a Reference?

You must cite your source any time that you

  • Quote someone else's words directly

  • Refer to someone else's ideas in your own words
What Does Not Need to be Referenced?

You do not need any reference citations when writing about

Your own lived experiences and insights;

Your own experiments, studies, observations;

"Common knowledge": facts and ideas that the reader will already know, ideas that other experts use without providing citations.

Example:

Why Is Correct Citation Important in Academics?

Your teachers are looking to see that

  • you have done adequate research before presenting your opinion;

  • you understand that general research;

  • you have done your research with reputable sources;

  • you have added some original ideas/insight to existing knowledge.

Other readers are looking to see

  • where to go to find additional information on the topic;

  • how your ideas fit onto the established ideas in the field.

It is important, therefore, that you clearly distinguish between your own original thoughts /conclusions/ observations and those ideas derived from others.

What Causes Plagiarism?

While some plagiarism is intentional --theft of ideas because of time pressures, laziness, and the like--most plagiarism is unintentional. Accidental plagiarism can occur when

  • you fail to take good notes and do not distinguish between an author's ideas and your own thoughts about that idea

  • you fail to take good notes and do not clearly mark the difference between information quoted directly and ideas jotted down in your own words

  • you forget to put quotation marks around direct quotations even though you remember to cite the source

  • you work in a group and do not clearly show in the final paper what the group contribution was and what was your own individual contribution

  • you ask a friend to review your paper and turn in that friend's rewrites, rather than just asking a friend to let you know problem areas that you then address yourself

  • you turn something written for one class in to another teacher without first getting the second teacher's permission

  • you don't understand how to paraphrase (see below)
Paraphrasing vs. Quoting Directly

Consider the following excerpt from p. 25 of the book Black Colleges: New Perspectives on Policy and Practice, edited by M. Christopher Brown II and Kassie Freeman, and published in 2004.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are multimission, multifaceted institutions....HBCUs educate, employ, and empower a diverse population of citizens and international ambassadors. Although historically black colleges and universities were created primarily for the education of African Americans, they have been successful in making collegiate participation more accessible for all.

One way to refer to the ideas here would be to quote it directly, like this:

Brown and Freeman (2004) sum up the contribution of HBCUs. "Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are multimission, multifaceted institutions....HBCUs educate, employ, and empower a diverse population of citizens and international ambassadors. Although historically black colleges and universities were created primarily for the education of African Americans, they have been successful in making collegiate participation more accessible for all" (p. 25).

Generally, though, it's best to avoid long quotations unless the words are somehow so unique that the meaning would be lost by paraphrasing. Since that's not the case here, another option would be just to paraphrase the general themes.

Paraphrasing: A first attempt

HBCU's are multimission and multifaceted organizations. They educate, hire and empower many diverse citizens. Although HBCU's were created primarily to educate African Americans, they have successfully made participation in college more accessible for everyone.

Would that be considered plagiarism?

Yes, because the claims made, and the order in which facts are presented, did not originate with you. Lack of a reference source (author, year) makes this an example of plagiarism.

Paraphrase #2

HBCU's are multimission and multifaceted organizations. They educate, hire and empower many diverse citizens. Although HBCUs were created primarily to educate African Americans, they have successfully made participation in college more accessible for everyone (Brown and Freeman, 2004).

Still plagiarism. You have now cited the source, but the ideas are still written in the same sentence structure and order as the original. While a few words have been changed, the basic sentence structure has not, so this is still written in Brown and Freeman's style, not yours.

Paraphrase #3

Brown and Freeman (2004) emphasize the diversity provided by HBCUs. With their diverse faculty, diverse students and their mission of empowerment,HBCU's have helped make higher education more accessible to students of all ethnicities.

Effective paraphrase. This version provides the reference source and makes the main point that the authors wrote about, but does so with different vocabulary and different sentence structure.

How to Avoid Problems with Accidental Plagiarism

A Couple General Tips

  • Give different drafts of a paper different names (HBCU 1, HBCU 2, etc.), so you can show how your teacher how your paper has developed, if necessary.

  • Do not leave your papers and flash drives lying around where students could be tempted to pick them up and make them their own. If a teacher gets two similar papers, both students pay the penalty.

  • When in doubt about whether something needs to be referenced, cite the source. It's better to be too careful than to plagiarize unintentionally.

  • Get in the habit of paraphrasing rather than quoting directly. Too many quotations inserted in the text make it harder to read, since the reader is continually jumping back and forth between writing styles. Remember, though, even paraphrases need citations so that the reader knows where the idea came from.