How to avoid plagiarism


Why avoid plagiarism? It is illegal. It is also self-defeating from an educational and learning point of view. The reason professors ask students to write summaries, oral presentations, lab reports, literature reviews, essays, term papers and opinion pieces is not to have students regurgitate or even paraphrase someone else’s words. It is to require the students to collect information from one or more sources and to process and synthesize that information into their own expression of its significance. Students have to make decisions as to what to include, what to leave out and how best to utilize the information for their own purposes, meaning the purposes of the assignment they have been asked to complete. The more students are able to use the information that they collect from other people to develop their own summary or synthesis, answer their own question, illustrate their own point, advance their own idea, support their own argument, or express their own point of view or perspective, the better.


What is plagiarism?  Plagiarism means presenting another person’s words, writing, ideas or results as your own, whether intentional or not. The information can be taken from any source – book, magazine, internet, speech, radio or TV show, etc. – and it can be presented on paper, on a screen or by voice – it does not matter. Plagiarism also includes efforts to edit other people’s writing to “make it your own”, e.g. cutting and pasting sentence fragments together, replacing words using a thesaurus, deleting phrases from a sentence, changing the sentence structure, etc..


To avoid plagiarism in writing, one must paraphrase all information collected from other sources, cite the sources in the text, and reference the sources in the bibliography.


Paraphrase means to restate a text, passage or work in your own words.


Cite means to list the author and year of the source in parentheses at the end of each sentence of paraphrased material.


Reference means to list the author, year, title, journal, publisher, etc. of the source in a bibliography using a format that is accepted by the discipline of academia that one pursues.


Students should also avoid using direct quotations. Unless one wants to convey the eloquence or pre-eminence of the original author (e.g., someone of Darwin or Newton’s status, or a Nobel prize winner), there is no need to use direct quotations in science communication and their use, even if properly cited and referenced, will be penalized by graders as a short-cut to paraphrasing. Why should one get credit for simply inserting other peoples’ words into one’s writing assignment?


What are the consequences of being caught plagiarizing?


The professor will request a meeting with the student to discuss the evidence for the plagiarism and to settle upon a mutually acceptable penalty. Generally speaking, this would be a failing grade on the assignment in question and possibly an additional punitive penalty depending on the severity of the plagiarism and the warnings given. If this cannot be agreed upon, the professor will hand the case over to the Honors Code Violation panel, which will conduct an investigation and hold a hearing.