Writer's Web

Plagiarism - Frequently Asked Questions
by Professor Elizabeth Outka

When writing any paper for any course, the first imperative is to avoid plagiarism.

What is plagiarism?

Here is how the UR Honor Council defines plagiarism:
The use of words/facts/ideas that are not one's own without proper acknowledgement.

Example: Copy and pasting from an internet source without quoting or citing.

So, you plagiarize when you use someone else's ideas or copy or paraphrase someone else's language without using quotation marks or acknowledging your source.

What if I plagiarize without meaning to do so?

It is still plagiarism. You must learn proper note-taking skills and proper methods of citation.

What do you mean by "proper note-taking skills"?

When you are using a book article, the Internet, or any other source, you must take careful notes. These notes should not be a close paraphrase of the original source. The best way to avoid paraphrasing too closely is to read the source (or part of the source) without taking notes, then put the source away and summarize the information in your own words. You can then return to the source and copy helpful quotations - though you must find some way to clearly identify this language as direct quotation. Remember to note page numbers for later reference.

If you do take notes as you read, take extra care not to paraphrase; if your language is too close to the original source, you can inadvertently plagiarize when you later use your notes. It is a good idea to re-examine the original source once you are through with your paper to be sure you have used your own language. And remember, using your own language does not negate the need for proper citation. The very fact that you are looking at a source that you're not directly quoting means that you have used it and need to cite it.

I've heard that I don't need to cite information that represents "general knowledge," but how do I know what that is?

General knowledge usually involves specific facts, like the date a war began or when and where an author was born; if you can find the same information in many different sources, you can consider it to be general knowledge. If you are in doubt, however, you can always cite the information.

I'm confused about the different kinds of plagiarism. Can you go into more detail?

Here are the main varieties:

1. Directly copying language:

You plagiarize when you take a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph (or more) from someone else's work and present it as your own. This kind of plagiarism includes taking language from an internet site, copying phrases from an article, or passing in all or part of a paper you found in a fraternity or sorority file, though that list is certainly not exhaustive. Here is an example:

Original source: "In Shakespeare's play, however, rightly or wrongly, the question of why Hamlet delays, or even whether Hamlet delays, has seemed central to many critics" (Barnet lxxvii).

Direct plagiarism: In Hamlet, whether rightly or wrongly the question of why Hamlet delays, or even whether he delays, has seemed central to many critics.

2. Paraphrasing someone else's language:

While more ambiguous than direct copying, paraphrasing a source can also constitute plagiarism. You cannot simply change a few words in a source and present the sentence as your own. It is possible to plagiarize sentence structure as well as words:

Plagiarism as paraphrasing: In Hamlet, whether we find this right or wrong, the issue of why Hamlet keeps waiting, or even whether he is waiting, has become a critical point of discussion for many critics (Barnet lxxvii).

Here, the author has merely substituted words rather than rephrasing them. The citation helps - certainly the plagiarism would be more egregious without it - but the language is simply too close to the original. Remember to summarize your sources in your own words (see proper note-taking skills above).

Indicate to your reader where your summary begins by using attribution:

According to Barnet, many critics have considered the issue of Hamlet's so-called procrastination to be central to the play (lxxvii).

3. Stealing someone else's ideas:

Even if you don't copy or paraphrase language, you plagiarize if you take ideas from another person.

Imagine, for example, you are reading a sonnet by Shakespeare, and you have no idea what the sonnet is about. You look at a web page and discover many insightful details about the poem. The author has discovered things you never would have seen, lovely details about the way different parts of the poem function. You copy down these ideas, and you use them in your paper. You don't want your professor to know that you have been looking at Spark Notes, so you leave this embarrassing evidence out of your paper. Alas, you have just plagiarized.

What are the consequences of plagiarism at the University of Richmond?

Plagiarism cases go before the Honor Council. If a student is found guilty, he or she may fail the paper or the class, or the student may be suspended from the University.

What if I cite a source but I cite it incorrectly - is this plagiarism?

It can be. If you copy exact language from a source (usually more than three words) and fail to use quotation marks, this IS plagiarism, even if you add the citation. If you use someone else's ideas throughout your paper, and you simply list that person as a source at the end of your paper, this IS plagiarism. If you only list the line numbers for a Shakespeare quotation, and not the act and the scene, that is sloppy, but it isn't plagiarism.


Works Cited

Abrams, M. H., et al. Introduction to I Henry IV. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1993. 823-4.

Barnet, Sylvan. Introduction. Hamlet. By William Shakespeare. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. lxxiii-lxxv.

Innumerable lectures from Professor Outka's teachers and professors.



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