An Academic Dirty Word: Plagiarism

5 Oct

Plagiarism. You might just call it the academic equivalent of first degree murder. It is often defined as a type of “intellectual theft.” Furthermore, as Rebecca Moore Howard points out in her essay “Sexuality, Textuality: The Cultural Work of Plagiarism,” the word actually means kidnapping, to take someone’s body (479). I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be known as a thief or a kidnapper.

from the University of Leicester

Of course, sometimes, it is difficult to tell when we are using “common knowledge” or how to come up with original ideas when we are taught that there are no original ideas. To help you think about plagiarism, Moore Howard gives three easier-to-decipher terms to understand plagiarism:

  • fraud: handing a paper somebody else wrote (a friend, a supposedly smart classmate, Wikipedia, etc.) and attempting to pass it off as your own. Fraud is intentional.
  • insufficient citation: failing to use parenthetical references, forgetting to use quotation marks.
  • excessive repetition: summarizing instead of analyzing a work

The most offensive type of plagiarism is the copy-paste type, where one takes another’s words and attempts to pass it off as his/her own.

The most common type of plagiarism is unintentional sloppy citing. Sometimes, students just don’t realize something is not “common knowledge,” or they think because they changed two or three words, it’s ok not to cite. Plagiarism is just as much, if not more, about copying ideas than language, though.

Here are some links to help you when in doubt:

Is It Plagiarism? from Purdue OWL

Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices by The Council of Writing Program Administrators

When in doubt, cite it! If you think you may have used someone else’s ideas or words, give them credit. Not only do you avoid plagiarizing, but it shows that you did your research and adds credibility to your argument.


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