Plagiarism, Style and Research Citations

Art of Local History

Fall 2003


What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It

Produced by Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

What is Plagiarism and Why is it Important?

In college courses, we are continually engaged with other people's ideas: we read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class, and incorporate them into our own writing. As a result, it is very important that we give credit where it is due. Plagiarism is using others' ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

How Can Students Avoid Plagiarism?

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use


How to Recognize Unacceptable and Acceptable Paraphrases

Here's the ORIGINAL text, from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s 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 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 steam-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.

What makes this passage plagiarism?

The preceding passage is considered plagiarism for two reasons:

If you do either or both of these things, you are plagiarizing.

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 factories).

Here's an ACCEPTABLE paraphrase:

Fall River, where the Borden family 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).

Why is this passage acceptable?

This is acceptable paraphrasing because the writer:

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 "transformed 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)

Why is this passage acceptable?

This is acceptable paraphrasing because the writer:

Note that if the writer had used these phrases or sentences in her own paper without putting quotation marks around them, she would be PLAGIARIZING. Using another person's phrases or sentences without putting quotation marks around them is considered plagiarism EVEN IF THE WRITER CITES IN HER OWN TEXT THE SOURCE OF THE PHRASES OR SENTENCES SHE HAS QUOTED.

Plagiarism and the World Wide Web

The World Wide Web has become a more popular source of information for student papers, and many questions have arisen about how to avoid plagiarizing these sources. In most cases, the same rules apply as to a printed source: when a writer must refer to ideas or quote from a WWW site, she must cite that source.

If a writer wants to use visual information from a WWW site, many of the same rules apply. Copying visual information or graphics from a WWW site (or from a printed source) is very similar to quoting information, and the source of the visual information or graphic must be cited. These rules also apply to other uses of textual or visual information from WWW sites; for example, if a student is constructing a web page as a class project, and copies graphics or visual information from other sites, she must also provide information about the source of this information. In this case, it might be a good idea to obtain permission from the WWW site's owner before using the graphics.

Strategies for Avoiding Plagiarism

1. Put in quotations everything that comes directly from the text especially when taking notes.

2. 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 hand, 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.

3. 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.

Terms You Need to Know (or What is Common Knowledge?)

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 known information. You do not need to document this fact.

However, you must document facts that are not generally known and ideas that interpret facts.

Example: According the American Family Leave Coalition's new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation (6).

The idea that "Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation" is not a fact but an interpretation; consequently, you need to cite your source.

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.
The following example uses the Modern Language Association's style:

Example: According to Peter S. Pritchard in USA Today, "Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young" (14).

Paraphrase: 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.

Hints for Citations and Style

Apostrophe Weeds and Other Annoyances:

In academic writing apostrophes sometimes sprout like weeds, and like weeds, they tend to spread. The most common apostrophe mistakes show up in these areas:

        Use of itís for its.Itís is a contraction for it is.

        Dates. The 1960ís is incorrect and often used. Use the simple plural, 1960s.

        Confused possessives. Farmersí Market is plural and possessive. Farmerís Market is singular possessive. Many farmers or just one?

Which and That: Advice from Rutgerís Writing Center

According to the more quibbling self-styled grammar experts, that is restrictive, while which is not.

Many grammarians insist on a distinction without any historical justification. Many of the best writers in the language couldn't tell you the difference between them, while many of the worst think they know. If the subtle difference between the two confuses you, use whatever sounds right. Other matters are more worthy of your attention.

For the curious, however, the relative pronoun that is restrictive, which means it tells you a necessary piece of information about its antecedent: for example, "The word processor that is used most often is WordPerfect." Here the that phrase answers an important question: which of the many word processors are we talking about? And the answer is the one that is used most often.

Which is non-restrictive: it does not limit the word it refers to. An example is "Penn's ID center, which is called CUPID, has been successful so far." Here that is unnecessary: the which does not tell us which of Penn's many ID centers we're considering; it simply provides an extra piece of information about the plan we're already discussing. "Penn's ID Center" tells us all we really need to know to identify it.

It boils down to this: if you can tell which thing is being discussed without the which or that clause, use which; if you can't, use that.

There are two rules of thumb you can keep in mind. First, if the phrase needs a comma, you probably mean which. Since "Penn's ID center" calls for a comma, we would not say "Penn's ID Center, that is called CUPID."

Another way to keep them straight is to imagine by the way following every which: "Penn's ID center, which (by the way) is called CUPID. . . ." The which adds a useful, but not grammatically necessary, piece of information. On the other hand, we wouldn't say "The word processor which (by the way) is used most often is WordPerfect," because the word processor on its own isn't enough information ó which word processor?

A paradoxical mnemonic: use that to tell which, and which to tell that.