A particularly difficult skill we work to develop in college
writing is using other people's ideas and texts appropriately.
All knowledge builds on the contributions of others: each of
us constructs our own new learning on knowledge discovered or
organized by others. In our college courses, we are continually
engaged with other people's idea: we read them in texts, hear
them in lecture, discuss them in class, and incorporate them
into our own writing. It is important in our writing both to
show our dependence on other people's work and to identify our
own contribution. A major requirement of scholarly work is to
give credit where it is due. Plagiarism--failing to acknowledge
our debts to others--is using others' ideas and words without
clearly acknowledging the source of that information.
To avoid plagiarizing, you must give credit whenever you use:
- another person's idea, opinion, or theory,
- any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings--any pieces of
information--that are not common knowledge,
- quotations of another person's actual spoken or written
- a paraphrase of another person's spoken or written words.
I. EXAMPLES OF PLAGIARISM
AND OF APPROPRIATE USE OF OTHERS' WORDS AND IDEAS
Here's the ORIGINAL text,
from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime
in the 1890's by Joyce Williams, et al.:
The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the
expansion of the population were the three great developments
of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger,
steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape
in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers,
and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry
came urbanization--the growth of large cities (like Fall River,
Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers
of production as well as of commerce and trade.
Here's an UNACCEPTABLE paraphrase
of this passage that is plagiarism:
The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and
the explosion of the population were three large factors of
nineteenth century America. As stem-driven companies became
more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed
farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large
wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities
like Fall River where the Bordens lived which turned into centers
of commerce and trade as well as production.
The preceding passage is considered plagiarism for two reasons:
- the writer only changed around a few words and phrases,
or changed the order of the original's sentences;
- the writer failed to cite a source for any of the ideas
If you do either or both of these things, you are plagiarizing.
[NOTE: This paragraph is also problematic because
it changes the sense of several sentences (for example, "steam-driven
companies" in sentence two misses the original's emphasis on
Here's an ACCEPTABLE paraphrase:
Fall river, where the Borden fancily lived, was typical
of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century.
Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture
to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the US, they
found work in these new factories. As a result, populations
grew, and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these
manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams 1).
This is acceptable paraphrasing because:
- the writer accurately relays the information in the original;
- uses her own words; and
- lets her reader know the source of her information.
Here's an example of quotation and paraphrase used together,
which is also ACCEPTABLE:
Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical
of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century.
As steam-powered production shifted labor from agriculture to
manufacturing, the demand for workers "changed farm hands into
factory workers": and created jobs for immigrants. In turn,
growing populations increased the size of urban areas. Fall
River was one of these manufacturing hubs that were also "centers
of commerce and trade" (Williams 1).
This is an acceptable paraphrase because the writer:
- records the information in the original passage accurately;
- gives credit for the ideas in this passage; and
- indicates which part is taken directly from her source by
putting the passage in quotation marks and citing the page
II. STRATEGIES FOR AVOIDING
- Put in quotations everything that comes directly from the
text--especially when taking notes.
- Paraphrase, but be sure you are not just rearranging or
replacing a few words. Instead, read over what you want to
paraphrase carefully; cover up the text with your had, or
close the text so you can't see any of it (and so aren't tempted
to use the text as a "guide"). Write out the idea in your
own words without peeking.
- Check your paraphrase against the original text to be sure
you have not accidentally used the same phrases or words,
and that the information is accurate.
III. SOME USEFUL TERMS
Common knowledge--facts that can be found in numerous
places and are likely to be known by a lot of people.
Example: John F. Kennedy was elected President of
the United States in 1960.
This is generally know information. You do not need to document
However, you must document facts that are not generally known
and ideas that interpret facts.
Example: Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered
family leave legislation.
This phrase interprets; you need to cite your source.
Example: According to the American Family Leave Coalition's
new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush's
relationship with Congress has hindered fancily leave legislation
Quotation--using someone's words. When you quote,
place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and document
the source according to a standard documentation style.
Example: Caroline Knapp, writing in the Boston Phoenix,
points out that "Americans spend more than $4 billion each
year on pet food. That's four times more than they spend on
food to aid all the hungry nations of the world" (B14).
Paraphrasing--using someone's ideas, but putting them
in your own words. This is probably the skill you will use
most when incorporating sources into your writing. Although
you use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge
the source of the information.
(The guidelines above are taken, with minor modifications,
from "Plagiarism: What It is and How to Avoid It," found in
the Indiana University Code of Student Ethics.)
For more information on and examples about plagiarism and
how to avoid it, see Earl