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English Composition 2

Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism

At the very least, a paper with plagiarism will receive an automatic "F," so it is obviously important to understand and to avoid plagiarism.

Plagiarism occurs

  1. when words or ideas from a source enter a paper without proper acknowledgment that the words or ideas are not the writer's,
  2. when words are copied from a source but are not put in quotation marks (even if acknowledgement is given to the source), 
  3. when the structure of sentences are copied from a source with just a few words in the original replaced with synonyms, or
  4. when a paper presents ideas in the same order as they appear in a source. Plagiarism would occur if someone copied the organization and the progression of ideas from a source, even if the ideas are put into the writer's own words.

There is only one situation in which you do not have to give credit to a source even if you use an idea or information from a source, and this is when the source provides information that is referred to as "common knowledge." "Common knowledge" refers to information that you could find in many different sources, as opposed to one writer's unique perspective or one writer's presentation of little-known information. For example, you do not have to cite a source if you state in a paper that the play Antigone was written by Sophocles in 442 B.C.E. This information would be considered common knowledge, and you therefore do not need to cite the source. This is true even if you were not aware of this information before you read about it in your source. Remember, though, if you copy the exact words from a source, you always must put those words in quotation marks and always must cite the source, even if the quoted words convey information that could be considered common knowledge

One way to determine if plagiarism occurs in a paper is to ask the following question: Could the writer have written the paper exactly as it is without looking at the source that seems to have been copied? If the answer is "no," and if the writer does not cite the source properly, then the paper contains plagiarism.

A paper with plagiarism must receive an "F," so it is obviously important to understand and to avoid plagiarism. Be very careful to clearly distinguish your words and ideas from the words and ideas of your sources.

Good explanations of plagiarism are in the Plagiarism Examples section of IVCC's own Style Book.


This page was last updated on June 30, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo, 2013.