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Plagiarism Vs. Paraphrasing

by Christina Lee, studioD

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, student plagiarism in college rose throughout the 2000s. In 2010, the New York Times reported that widespread use of internet sources like Wikipedia had confused students about the definition of plagiarism. It noted that some students plagiarize without intending to -- and pointed to increasing confusion about what plagiarism means. Even college students sometimes confuse plagiarism with acceptable paraphrasing.

Exact Copying Is Plagiarism

All exact copying of text constitutes plagiarism. This means you should never copy anything that anyone other than you has written. This rule is not limited to academic sources. Do not copy from Wikipedia or any other crowd-sourced work used in your paper. Do not copy from a blog. Also remember that buying a college paper is copying too -- because you would be using another writer's words as your own.

Copied Language, Phrases and Structures

Sometimes students attempt to paraphrase in good faith but end up plagiarizing instead. This happens when you change around certain words or parts of a source to make it slightly different from the original. When you copy phrases and words from any other source, even if you think that source contains common knowledge, you commit plagiarism. It even constitutes plagiarism when you mimic the sentence structure you find in a source.

Copied Thoughts and Ideas

The rule of thumb on using intellectual ideas is that you should never pass the intellectual work of others off as your own. This means you should provide citations for any material in your paper that draws on others' insights. The only exception is material considered to be general, everyday, common knowledge. Some examples of common knowledge include the year of the Declaration of Independence, the year of a President's election or the duration of a war. Well-known historical events do not need citations. More obscure facts always need citations, as do intellectual ideas and schools of thought that you did not originate. When you aren't sure what to do, err on the side of caution and cite.

Paraphrasing Without Plagiarism

To paraphrase a work without cheating, you should always begin with an in-text nod to the source. This mean starting out with something like, "Rhetoric scholar Judith Butler argues..." or "Critical theorist Wendy Brown notes..." In later sentences, make it clear that you are continuing to use the other's work with phrases like "Butler goes on to argue..." or "Brown also suggests..." Be sure to provide in-text citations or footnotes according to whichever house style you're using -- often Chicago or MLA. On top of this, think of acceptable paraphrases as being like summaries. Do not attempt to recreate every thought or even a full paragraph in a source. Just include the material needed to bolster your own analysis and present it in your own words.

About the Author

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.

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