Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is when you take credit for someone else's work, period. It's like posting someone else's photograph on Facebook and claiming you took it yourself the last time you were on vacation. And while that's rude, and could get you flamed if anyone finds out, plagiarizing in college is cheating and could result in your failing an entire class on the spot. Your professors have a lot of experience with plagiarized papers, and can often spot instances of plagiarism as soon as they start reading your paper.

Depending on the level of the class, your individual professor, and how grievous your offense was, you could get:

➤ a zero for the paper, which is very hard to recover from

➤ an instant F for the entire class, no matter what your other grades are

➤ a referral to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action

➤ an XF on your permanent transcript, which indicates that you failed a class due to academic dishonesty 

And whatever the outcome, your professor will know that you were dishonest and that you attempted to take credit for work that you didn't do.

Plagiarism is easy to avoid, but sometimes there's confusion over what actually constitutes plagiarism.

Citation Help

Writing Center

Academic Integrity Policy


Think you learned all about plagiarism in high school? 

Think again.

Now that you are in college, the rules may differ from those you learned in high school. We're going to go through the five common types of plagiarism that often get entering students in trouble, and then three simple rules at the end which, if followed every time with every paper, will ensure that you are never going to be guilty of plagiarism.



Five Types of Plagiarism


The Copy/Paste

The Copy/Paste is when you find an article or Wikipedia entry online, copy a block of text, and paste it directly into your paper. It's also a copy/paste when you type out exactly what you find in a book or article. This is the easiest kind of plagiarism to commit, and the easiest for your professor to catch. (Pro tip: faculty know how to use Google, too! If you found it, so will they.)





The Thesaurus Job

 The Thesaurus Job is when you copy a block of text, and then change certain words to synonyms so it doesn't look exactly the same, but has exactly the same meaning. This is a pain to do, and often takes more time than just writing something in your own words. It's also easy to catch, because unless you are a master linguist, it will sound strange to your professors, who have lots of experience with plagiarism and how to detect it.





The Paraphrase

The Paraphrase is when you put things in your own words, but you are rephrasing someone else's work sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. When you use another person’s work, even if you change the phrasing, you are still unfairly using the original author’s ideas. You are presenting their ideas as though they are yours, and all you are showing is your ability to parrot back what someone else said. If you pretend the ideas are yours, it’s plagiarism, even when the words are your own. 




The Selfie

The Selfie is when you plagiarize yourself. 

What? If you wrote it, isn't it yours? 

Well, yes and no. Self-plagiarism usually occurs when you try to turn in the same paper in to more than one class. You already got credit for a paper in a history class, for example, and then you try to use the same paper in your English class as a research paper. You're essentially trying to get credit for the same work twice. 

Each paper you write should contain fresh, new ideas, and be tailored to the class you're writing it for. If you are in a situation where you want to use part of an old paper in a new paper (for example, if you want the biographical information on Kim Jong Il to be the same, but you have a new argument), you should quote yourself just like you were the author of an article—because you are. 

Here is an example of how you might cite yourself in MLA format: Smith, Jane. "Kim Jong Il: North Korean Dictator." Unpublished paper, HIS 101, University of Southern Mississippi. February 2013.
(The best thing to do if you plan to submit a paper for a class that is similar to paper you submitted for another class is to talk to your professor about it ahead of time. He or she will be happy to walk you through what is and is not considered self-plagiarism and to let you know when it's appropriate to cite yourself.)


5The Shopping Cart

The Shopping Cart is when you buy a paper online, pay someone else to write it for you, or use a paper someone else has written.

This is the most dangerous type of plagiarism, and has the greatest chance of causing you not only to fail the paper and the class, but of being brought up on disciplinary charges.

Your professor will get to know your writing style over the course of a semester, and if you suddenly turn in something that doesn't sound like your writing, your professor will likely know exactly what's going on.

In addition, the university subscribes to an online service, Turnitin, which professors can use to check your paper for unoriginal work. Turnitin buys papers online, too, and keeps them in their database.



3 Ways to Get It Right


If you use someone else's words, quote him or her directly by using quotation marks and a citation.

Different disciplines use different forms of citations (MLA, Chicago-Style, footnotes, in-text citations, etc.). Your professor will let you know what is appropriate for your class.



If you use someone else's ideas or opinions, use a citation to give credit to the person who wrote the source you used. 

Citation Machine is one of many online services that can help you format your citations. 



This tip is the most important one to remember. If you are not sure whether or not something is a common fact that does not need to be cited (Kim Jong Il was the leader of North Korea, for example) or someone else's opinion or the result of his/her unique research that does need to be cited, ask your professor. 

Your professors are here to teach you and guide you. It depresses them to get plagiarized papers. They would much rather have student come to office hours with their source and their paper and ask, "Does this need a citation?" than have to fail someone for a plagiarized paper.  





A Note on Temptation 

One of the most common reasons that students plagiarize is because they run out of time while they're working on a paper and panic. Class is in half an hour, and the whole internet is right there, and it's full of information practically begging to be used, and plus, it wasn't really their fault that the paper isn't done because their crazy roommate kept them up the night before... You know how this goes.

If you get in a bind like this, check your syllabus to see if your professor is willing to offers extensions or take late papers. If your syllabus is not clear on these issues, email your professor and ask. Make it clear that the class is important to you and that you are working diligently on the paper. The earlier you email, the better your chances. Many professors are much more willing to work with you before your paper is late than two days after it was due.

If your professor does not grant extensions and won't take late papers and there's no possible way you can have a completed paper in on time, think it through before you make a mistake you can't undo. If you turn in a terrible or incomplete paper, you'll probably get an F, true. But an F is a lot better than a zero: a 50% on a paper is still an F, but it does a lot more for your grade point average than a 0%. You can come back from a F, but a zero is hard to recover from.

And what if you don't have any paper at all and haven't even done the research you'd need to do to start one? Don't plagiarize. You'll get a zero on the assignment if you don't turn it in, but a zero on a paper is better than failing the whole class, and anything is better than knowing you've cheated.