7 Avoiding Plagiarism

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Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Avoid It

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cartoon showing that copying is stealing
Thief” by Nina Paley is available from Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Plagiarism happens when we use another person’s intellectual materials and don’t give them credit. Intellectual property is defined as any kind of material (writing, art, music, film, etc.) or ideas envisioned and created by another person. Plagiarism can happen intentionally or unintentionally; authors have final responsibility for handing in their own work and carefully ensuring that they give credit for others’ work.

Plagiarism is a kind of academic dishonesty—a kind of theft. Colleges and universities take plagiarism seriously; many discipline or even expel students who are found to be plagiarizing.

How can you avoid plagiarism? Follow these steps:

  1. As much as possible, do your own work. In other words, always start by writing what you know about a subject. Handle outside sources respectfully; be sure to paraphrase, summarize, and use quotations properly.
  2. Start your research early, and take notes carefully. Don’t wait until just before your essay is due to start your research. When you add source material to your work, mark it so that you will remember it’s from a source. Cite the work immediately and add it to your works cited list.
  3. If you use someone else’s intellectual property, you must give them credit. If you bring their work into your assignment, you must mention them as the work’s owners. Remember: this includes all kinds of property: words, photographs, drawings, charts, graphs, poems, music, videos, etc. – and ideas that belong to someone else.

To give credit for intellectual property (also called source materials) in your academic writing, you must do the following:

  1. Create an in-text citation: Mention the source’s owner/creator in your written work at the point where the source is used.
  2. Create a list of all of the sources you used in your assignment; you’ll do this by arranging them in a Works Cited list at the end of your essay.
  3. Make sure sources on the Works Cited page are actually cited in your essay. If you read some source materials to learn more about your topic but do not mention them in your paper, you do not need to list them in the works cited list when using MLA format. But if you later end up using those sources in your paper, then you’ll need to add them to your works cited, so be sure to keep a list in your notebook of all of your sources. One strategy is to keep two lists:
    • Works Cited, and
    • Works Consulted – then, if you do later cite something from one of these sources, you can move it to the Works Cited list. You do not need to add your Works Consulted list to your final draft in MLA format.

Activity ~ Academic Honesty Scenarios

Discuss these scenarios with your partners. Which ones are cases of academic dishonesty? What would you do in these situations?
  1. Last semester, you started ENGL-087, but had to drop the class midway through the semester for personal reasons. This semester, to save time, you plan to submit the same first essay.
  2. Your homework assignment is to brainstorm ideas for an essay. You and your friend talk about some ideas, then you both write down your ideas and hand them in.
  3. Your friend asks you to study grammar together over the weekend.
  4. When you are doing some research online, you find some relevant, interesting information for your essay. You forget to write down the source, but you include the information in your draft.
  5. As you research your essay topic, you take notes from your sources. When you write your draft, you cannot think of a better way to say the information – the original author said it perfectly – so you copy and paste it from the original source into your essay. 
  6. After you write your first draft of an essay, you go to the Composition & Literature Center (DH 210) for advice. 
  7. Your best friend is taking a different section of ENGL-087. She tells you all about the grammar quiz from today’s class.
  8. One day in class, you are taking a test on Canvas. During the test, you sense that a classmate beside you is looking at your computer.
  9. You had to work late last night, so you didn’t have time to do the reading for today’s class. In your small group discussion, you sit quietly and take notes on what your partners say. Then you take the quiz on the reading.


Is this chapter:

…too easy, or you would like more information? –> Watch “Use Information Literacy,” a long video tutorial with quizzes created by our HCC librarians. The tutorial has helpful information about paraphrasing, summarizing, and using quotations. You can stop the tutorial at any time and re-start where you stopped later.

…about right, but you would like more information? –> Read “Defining Plagiarism” from the ENGL 099 text. Browse the pages before that as well for helpful information about academic integrity for all of your classes.

…about right, but you prefer to listen and learn? –> Watch “What is academic honesty?” from Northeastern Illinois University.

The “Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Avoid It” section of this chapter was adapted from “Learning About Plagiarism and Guidelines for Using Information” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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