Plagiarism occurs when you disguise someone else’s words and ideas as your own. Flagrant plagiarism, the kind sometimes used when a desperate student takes an entire paper written by someone else and hands it in as his/her own, is a very serious offense, and can result in permanent blemishes on a student’s college record, which can adversely affect, of course, both future educational and professional pursuits.

The unsettling aspect of plagiarism is that you may not be intentionally trying to plagiarize or mislead your professor in any way, but you may still be plagiarizing. And any violation involving plagiarism is serious regardless of intent, or whether or not your actions were deliberate.

In addition, in many classes, research term papers are not submitted until the end of the semester when communication between student and instructor is reduced – the luxury of clarification and explanation, which can happen during the semester, may not be available, thereby causing any evidence of plagiarism to be viewed unfavorably.

That is why it is important to know the strategies for proper documentation (see Integrating Sources) and for avoiding plagiarism. The conceptual shifts necessary to become familiar and comfortable with using sources are so important to your growth as a research writer. It is difficult and stressful to labor under the fear that you may be submitting work that could call your academic integrity into question.

Here’s a short list of considerations when trying to avoid plagiarism:

When in doubt – document! Over documenting is better than “under-documenting” any day. You can always delete unnecessary parenthetical citations but it’s hard to “undo” an act of plagiarism, especially the suspicion it arouses in your instructor – or employer for that matter.

Become familiar with short quote and longer quote forms. Your grasp of the way things are supposed to “look” in a paper will enhance understanding of source referencing and make you more equipped to avoid plagiarism. Since the quotes you use will always have a certain appearance, i.e., surrounded by quotation marks (short quotes) or set off from the text (longer quotes) you will be more likely to give your sources the proper clothing–“naked” quotes will become alarming to you and, as a result, easier to flag.

Take good notes or always use a highlighter when making a record of the quotes you will use. Some of the most common unintentional plagiarism violations occur when a student, in copying a quote from a text onto a note card or notebook, forgets to place quotation marks around it or worse–forgets whether or not the quote was from a source or written by the student herself. A rigid system of marking the quotes you will use will always help when it comes time to craft the paper.

Become familiar with paraphrasing techniques when citing sources. Some research writers are fearful of using anything but direct quotation when citing citing sources. But paraphrasing is an important alternative to direct quotation and expected in the course of a paper. The more comfortable and used to putting quotes in your own words the more able you will become in distinguishing between your ideas and the ideas of others. This may seem contradictory; you might say to yourself “Won’t it be confusing to put someone else’s words into my own and still give credit to that source?” Initially, this may feel true, but the more you exercise the mental muscles involved with rewording the more your ideas will remain in tact as distinct from the ideas in the sources you use. Just remember that parenthetical citation is critical to giving credit to a source for the idea borrowed.
The following offers examples of how to avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing a quote:

Original Quote

(taken from Julius Lester’s “The Angry Children of Malcolm X”):
“The world of the black American is different from that of the white American. This difference comes not only from the segregation imposed on the Black, but it also comes from the way of life he has evolved for himself under these conditions” (Lester 172).

Paraphrased Student Version with Plagiarism:

I can relate to the words of Julius Lester that this difference comes not only from the segregation, but also from the minds of Blacks living in their communities (172).

Paraphrased Student Version with Quotation Marks Used to Avoid Plagiarism:

I can relate to the words of Julius Lester that “this difference comes not only from the segregation,” but also from the minds of Blacks living in their communities (172).

Paraphrased Version Without Direct Quotation Required:

I agree with Julius Lester’s idea that disparities between blacks and whites are the results of not only enforced segregation but how blacks have responded to their lives under the harsh challenges and oppression segregation creates (172).

As far as deliberate plagiarism – don’t do it! It’s not worth the consequences to your educational and professional record. Guess who’s going to get the job or admission into that four year school? The student with, or without, the record of a plagiarism violation? The answer is too obvious. What do you do if desperate times seem to call for the desperate act of plagiarism? Go to your instructor. Tell him why you are tempted to do so. Explain to her why you’ve gotten into such a situation that makes plagiarism seem appealing.

Turn a negative into a positive. Perhaps your honesty will result in one of the most important learning experiences of your academic career. Also, keep in mind that the research paper you avoided doing properly is just the one that would have provided you with the opportunity to avoid plagiarism in future papers.