Certain football coaches are reluctant to have their teams throw the ball because, according to the cliché, “When you throw a forward pass, three things can happen — and two of them are bad.” Yes, these coaches fear that their quarterbacks will throw an incompletion or, worse yet, an interception. Still, however, their quarterbacks do throw the ball once in a while because the coaches also recognize the positive possibility of a completed pass. Plagiarism, on the other hand, offers no positive possibilities whatsoever. As a student, if you are caught plagiarizing, three things can happen, and all three of them are bad.
Plagiarism is, essentially, a theft of intellectual property. When you take another person’s ideas without giving that person credit, that act is the same as if you broke into that person’s house and stole the television (“Plagiarism,” The Newbury House Dictionary 654). Some students plagiarize because they don’t know any better. Others are simply not as careful as they should be with their documentation. Still others are unwilling to do the work, and they hope they won’t get caught.
You should know, however, that the faculty and the administration at most colleges will not tolerate plagiarism. According to the Plagiarism Policy pamphlet at Hudson Valley Community College, the College “has a strong policy against plagiarism because when students plagiarize, they threaten the integrity of the entire institution, and they devalue the legitimate intellectual accomplishments of all students.” So what can you do to avoid plagiarism? You can learn to use all of the following correctly: quotations, paraphrases, and summaries along with in-text citations and a list of sources.
Quotations. When you copy directly from a source, you have to put the copied material in quotation marks to indicate that the material was originally composed by someone else. Generally, you should include quotations “when a source’s exact words are important to your point and make your writing more memorable, fair, or authoritative,” say Elaine P. Maimon, Janice H. Peritz, and Kathleen Blake Yancey, authors of the 2007 edition of The New McGraw-Hill Handbook (358). Does that mean you should fill your entire paper with quotations? No. Anyone can simply copy quotes; your teachers would much rather see you paraphrase or summarize what you read and use quotations only for special effect.
Paraphrases. When you paraphrase, you take your source’s information, and you put that information into your own words, usually in a way that is much more concise with fewer specific details. Unfortunately, some students view a paraphrase as if it were a translation into a new language, and they simply substitute synonyms for the key words or phrases. To paraphrase correctly, however, you should change both the sentence structure and the overall vocabulary, so that your paraphrase has your own unique style rather than the style of the original author (Maimon, et al., 2009, 353).
Summaries. When you summarize, you’re also putting the source’s information into your own words, but you’re doing so in a much shorter format. According to Lynn Troyka and Douglas Hesse, authors of the Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers, the summary is the technique you’ll use most often in your research, and you’ll use it primarily to focus on main ideas. Thus, you may have to break down the original source into smaller segments and, then, extract the main idea from each segment. At that point, you may have to accentuate certain ideas, eliminate others, and organize your selected ideas to fit the overall pattern of your paper (557–60).
Once you’ve chosen the appropriate quotations and once you’ve finished writing your paraphrases and your summaries, you need to cite all those sources in two places: (1) immediately after the quotation, paraphrase, or summary in an in-text citation and (2) at the end of your paper in a complete list of sources.
In-text Citations. Generally, an in-text citation will give your reader a general reference to the source of your information. For example, you might include the author’s name in the paragraph itself, as this essay does in the paragraph on “Summaries.” Or you might include the author’s name within a set of parentheses (a parenthetical reference) at the end of the quotation. Finally, you might use a parenthetical reference at the end of the paragraph that includes either a paraphrase or a summary, as this essay does in the paragraph on “Paraphrases.” You might even use a footnote or an endnote to indicate that general information about the source is located at the foot of the page or at the end of the paper. The information included in these citations and the placement of the citations will depend on the documentation style you are using.
List of Sources. At the end of your paper, you must also provide a list (alphabetized by author) of either the works mentioned in your paper or the works consulted during the research process. (Again, the exact format will depend on the documentation style you are using.) Generally, you have to provide the author’s name, the title of the work, and enough of the publication information, so that your reader can also find that same source.
Is it acceptable to provide only the in-text citations or only the list of sources at the end? No. You need to provide both, and if you fail to do so, you are guilty of plagiarism. And the punishments for plagiarism are severe based on the level of the offense. According to the Plagiarism Policy pamphlet at Hudson Valley Community College, for a minor offense or a Level One violation, you “may receive a failing grade for the assignment.” For a “significant” offense or a Level Two violation, you “may receive a failing grade for the course.” Finally, for a repeated offense or a Level Three violation, you “may receive a failing grade for the course” and “may be suspended or expelled from the College.” Also, if you commit any of the three levels of violations, your name will be forwarded to various authorities on campus. Note, too, that if you feel you have been unjustly accused of plagiarism, you do have the right to appeal.
Thus, as mentioned earlier, “if you are caught plagiarizing, three things can happen, and all three of them are bad.” Obviously, then, you will want to avoid plagiarism by keeping thorough records of all your sources and by properly documenting those sources according to the style that is required by your instructor or appropriate to your subject matter.
Maimon, Elaine P., et al. The New McGraw-Hill Handbook. McGraw-Hill, 2007.
— -. The New McGraw-Hill Handbook. 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill, 2009.
“Plagiarism.” The Newbury House Dictionary. Heinle & Heinle, 1999.
Plagiarism Policy — Hudson Valley Community College. Hudson Valley Community College, 2005.
Troyka, Lynn Quitman, and Douglas Hesse. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2007.