PLAGIARISM
© 2003 Saint Mary's University of Minnesota School of Graduate & Special Programs

Plagiarism is a very serious academic offence.  A few students plagiarize in an attempt to cut corners or to cover academic deficiencies.  Other students, unfortunately, plagiarize because they don't understand the concept of plagiarism and the methods for avoiding it.  In either case, students are held accountable for their actions, and the penalty could be as severe as dismissal from the institution.  Follow the rules of citation and documentation carefully, and make sure you understand what is meant by paraphrasing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the presentation of someone elseís work as your own.  If you use another authorís words you must attribute the work to its original source (its author, composer, etc.). 

  • If you borrow an idea from, or directly quote from, another personís work, you must cite the source of that idea or quote. 

  • Phrases borrowed word-for-word from another author must be placed in quotation marks and followed by the page number from the original source.

  • You must cite a source even if you donít quote directly from it.

  • Paraphrase with care.  Inadequate paraphrasing can be another form of plagiarism, even with documentation provided.

In APA style, a citation consists of authorís last name and date of publication.  A full citation appears on the References page.

Plagiarism is a very serious academic and ethical issue.  Most universities impose penalties on students or staff who plagiarize, whether the plagiarism is deliberate or inadvertent. 

Quoting and Paraphrasing
See the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th ed., for details

Quoting 

Avoid using direct quotes in your paper.  They are problematic because (a) meaning can be altered when authorsí words are taken out of context; (b) another authorís writing style may not fit the writing style of your paper; (c) direct quotes give no indication that you understand the source, nor does it help the reader understand the source; (d) direct quotes can be distracting to the reader and break the flow of your paper.

  • It is not necessary to use any direct quotes in a paper.  If used at all, quotes should be limited to the following: 

  • discussing the way an author expressed his or her ideas,

  • presenting a controversial or disputed statement,

  • conveying precise technical data or directions,

  • rhetorical effect, to introduce or emphasize a point.

Paraphrasing

Perhaps paraphrasing is best defined by what it is not.  Changing or omitting a few words of another authorís statements in order to avoid a direct quote is not paraphrasing; it is, to be blunt, a form of plagiarism.  Readers are led to believe that you are presenting your understanding of another authorís words, when in fact you are using that authorís actual words (mostly).  Paraphrasing requires that you express ideas in your own terms.  Of course, you will use some of the same terminology as the original author.  If you are writing about corporate downsizing, for example, you canít avoid that term. However, if you simply parrot the original authorís sentence structure, style, and diction, then you are not paraphrasing. 

Hereís a strategy for paraphrasing:  Read a section of the text you plan to reference, put the text aside, and write your own interpretation in your own words.  If you canít do it, you need to reread the text for better understanding before you try again.  Sometimes reading aloud is helpful.

Following is an example of how to, and how not to, paraphrase.

(The Original)

Three underappreciated facts should be acknowledged in any attempt to systematically improve academic achievement at the district level. First, many secondary schools, particularly urban schools that serve large numbers of high-poverty children, are performing very poorly. The majority of middle school students in large, northern, industrial cities, such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, graduate from 8th grade two to three grade levels behind the national average in the major subject areas, then attend high schools where most of the students drop out. Second, the number and concentration of poorly performing secondary schools varies by placeósome districts have only a few low-performing secondary schools; other districts, often those heavily populated with poor and minority students, have a high percentage of low-performing schools. Third, much of this poor performance is either actively created or passively permitted. It is not simply the result of schools, districts, and states doing the best job they can under difficult circumstances. Poorly performing middle and high schools and the school districts and states in which they are located often directly but inadvertently contribute to the low performance of their students (Balfanz, 1997, in press).

Paraphrase #1

Three facts should be recognized to improve academic achievement at the district level. First, many high schools, particularly city schools that serve large numbers of high-poverty children, perform very poorly. Second, the number and concentration of poorly performing secondary schools varies by location--only a few in some districts, a high percentage in other districts. Third, much of this poor performance is either actively created or passively allowed. It is not just the result of schools doing the best they can under challenging circumstances. Poorly performing schools and school districts directly but unconsciously contribute to the low student performance. (Balfanz, as cited in Balfanz & Mac Iver, 1999).

Paraphrase #1, A Second Look

Take another look at the attempted paraphrase above, this time with words taken from the original source highlighted in pink.

 Three facts should be recognized to improve academic achievement at the district level. First, many high schools, particularly city schools that serve large numbers of high-poverty children, perform very poorly. Second, the number and concentration of poorly performing secondary schools varies by location--only a few in some districts, a high percentage in other districts. Third, much of this poor performance is either actively created or passively allowed. It is not just the result of schools doing the best they can under challenging circumstances. Poorly performing schools and school districts directly but unconsciously contribute to the low student performance. (Balfanz, as cited in Balfanz & Mac Iver, 1999).

 It's obvious that the "paraphrase" is really plagiarism.  Most of the paraphrase consists of identical words in the identical grammatical form of the original.  Even if the paraphraser were to find synonyms for the original words, the passage would still be a plagiarism because the pattern of expression is the same.  Now compare the paragraph above to an actual paraphrase below, in which the ideas are summarized and expressed in a new way.

A Better Paraphrase (one possibility)

Balfanz (as cited in Balfanz & Mac Iver, 1999), wrote that many urban schools serving children of poverty perform ďvery poorlyĒ (p. 4).   He noted that these schools are not equally distributed: some districts have a few, while other districtsóespecially those with large numbers of poor and minority childrenóhave many.  He stated that poor student performance was not just a result of uncontrollable conditions in the districts, but was also attributable to the actions or neglect by policy makers at the school, district, and state levels. 

For good advice about paraphrasing and quoting, including examples, click one of the following:

 Purdue University Online Writing Lab

University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center

 

Contact Us

Writing Center Home