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Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, one which is far too prevalent in today’s academic environment. The penalties range from failing a class to expulsion from school. At The Paper Experts, plagiarism can result in loss of pay for a paper or dismissal from the company’s pool of writers. Nevertheless, many writers have discovered that internet-based sources have made it easy to “cut and paste” material into their own work, and too often they fail to properly document this material, resulting in plagiarism. Often this occurs accidentally through carelessness or mistakes. The key to understanding how plagiarism happens and how to avoid it is to understand the philosophy of writing and what makes an academic paper an essay.

What is an Essay?
Because academic essays involve using other people’s research, ideas, and opinions to support and defend the writer’s own thesis, many writers believe an essay simply assembles these outside sources. Too often, papers read like a series of quotations glued together with transition words like “additionally” or “in contrast.” This is not a real essay. This mistaken idea about what an essay is makes it easy to plagiarize because the writer is doing very little thinking or writing by him- or herself. A true academic essay develops a strong thesis statement in its introduction and spends the rest of the essay supporting and defending that thesis, both through the use of facts, ideas, and information from outside sources and, more importantly, through the writer’s own analysis and discussion of those outside sources. Remember that in an academic paper, the analysis and discussion is the most important part of the essay. This is where you the writer show the client and your readers that you understand the sources you have assembled and that you understand the assignment the client has given you. Anyone can glue together quotations to make other people tell a story. A real writer integrates those sources with the writer’s own ideas, analysis, and discussion to make a final product that is uniquely your own. You integrate sources through the use of quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. Quotations duplicate the source’s exact words and acknowledge that another person wrote them. A paraphrase rewrites the source’s ideas in the writer’s own words, approximating the same length and level of detail. The writer acknowledges that these are another’s ideas. A summary briefly gives the main idea of a source’s text and acknowledges that another came up with the ideas. All forms need documentation. As a general rule, whenever you quote, summarize, or paraphrase, you should analyze and discuss that material for a space equal to the length of the quote, summary, or paraphrase. If you have paraphrased three lines, you should discuss it for three lines. Do not leave quotations, summaries or paraphrases in your essay without comment. This does not demonstrate that you understand the material, and it makes it hard for your readers to believe what you are saying.

Types of Plagiarism
Now that we understand what makes an essay, we can begin to examine how plagiarism happens. There are many different types of plagiarism, ranging from copying whole papers down to failure to properly document a source. Obviously, the worst type of plagiarism is when a writer simply copies an entire passage (or even a whole paper) from a source and passes it off as the writer’s own work without any documentation. Any time a writer knowingly uses the exact words of another source and pretends that they are the writer’s own words (even if it is just a phrase of six words), this is intentional plagiarism, the most serious kind. This type of plagiarism results in the most serious consequences because it shows contempt for the writing process and the ethics of academic honesty. In general, intentional plagiarism is the intentional replication of six or more words in a row from an outside source without documentation. Clearly this is a big no-no because for a writer to claim authorship of a paper, the majority of the paper must be in the writer’s own words. That said, there are many cases when writers accidentally plagiarize and may not even know it. Let’s look at some now.

Quotations and Plagiarism
Though the vast majority of your essay should be in your own words, it is important to use selective quotations from outside sources to express important points of view or important ideas that the original source says exceptionally well. Quotations should make up less than 25 percent of your essay, and they should be used sparingly, only when it is important that your readers hear the source’s point of view in the source’s own words. Whenever you borrow the exact language of an outside source, you must indicate that these are not your own words. You do this through the use of “quotation marks” or by setting longer quotations in an indented paragraph called a “block quote.” If you fail to do this, you have committed plagiarism, even if you have provided a citation. The reason this is still plagiarism is that even with a citation the reader has no way of knowing if this is a summary, a paraphrase, or a quotation. The reader needs to know whether these are your own words or the words of another. One of the most common forms of plagiarism is forgetting to place quotation marks around words borrowed from an outside source or forgetting to set long quotations in a block quote. You need to put quotation marks around any sentence, distinctive phrase, or even unique word borrowed from a passage. Let’s look at an example using a passage from Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Everyman, 1993):

In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. (Gibbon 1)

Notice that I have indented the whole paragraph. This is a block quote, and it tells the reader that these are not my words. Each style of writing has its own rules for how to produce block quotes, and you should consult the style guide for your style for more details. In order to quote from this, you must use quotation marks, providing a proper citation, in this case in MLA style: “Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury” (Gibbon 1). But even if you are just talking about a phrase, you still need to use quotation marks for that phrase:

Gibbon notes that the laws and mores of the Antonine age produced a “gentle but powerful influence” on Roman society (1).

This applies even when you use only one unique word that obviously came from your source:

In the time of Marcus Aurelius, it was still possible, as Gibbon noted, to view Roman manners and customs as “gentle,” in opposition to the barbarian manners of the Gothic tribes (1).

If you do not use the quotation marks, any of these examples would be plagiarism.

Paraphrases and Plagiarism
The place where most writers get into trouble is paraphrasing. Many writers believe that a paraphrase involves nothing more than changing a few words or moving around some phrases in a passage. This is not true, and if you do this it is plagiarism, even if you supply a citation. Paraphrasing involves completely rewriting the source’s ideas in your own words. Do not make use of the same phrases or even the same sentence structure. A paraphrase must be completely different. Let’s look at an example of the wrong and right ways to paraphrase using a passage from Andrew Wheatcroft’s The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire (New York: Viking, 1995).

A real threat only existed for a few years in the 1790s but a mortal fear of subversion, even in its mildest forms, coloured the remaining thirty-two years of Francis’ reign. He was a ‘reactionary’ in the true and limited sense of the word: he responded to the perils (real or imagined) of revolution. (Wheatcroft 242)

Here is how many writers would paraphrase this passage, moving around a few phrases and changing a couple of words here and there:

Historian Andrew Wheatcroft notes that real threat only happened for a couple of years in the 1790s, but there was a mortal fear of subversion, no matter how mild, and it clouded the last 32 years of Francis’ reign. He was a real reactionary because he responded to the real and imaginary threats of revolution (242).

This is too close to the original, echoing its language and sentence structure. Notice the writer has simply substituted the synonym “happened” for “existed” and “a couple” for “a few.” The writer has also retained the entire phrase about “a mortal fear of subversion” and done little to change the rest of that sentence. In the last sentence, the writer moved “perils” to the end of the sentence and changed it to “threats,” but otherwise the writer kept it pretty much as it was. This is outright plagiarism. It was not intentional, but nonetheless, a reader would have no choice but to say that this writer has copied Andrew Wheatcroft’s work and passed it off as his or her own. Now let’s look at the right way to paraphrase:

Historian Andrew Wheatcroft notes that though the fire of revolution only really threatened Francis II at the end of the 1790s, he spent his reign fighting paranoia about the ever-present threat of “subversion.” As a result, Francis spent his life fighting against the real or imaginary threat of revolution, the very definition of a “reactionary” (242).

This paraphrase restates the author’s ideas without repeating the words or structure of the original and indicates with quotation marks unique words borrowed in the paraphrase. While it is not perfect (repeating “threat” too often), this paraphrase completely rewrites Wheatcroft’s work in a new way, faithfully retaining the ideas while saying them in the writer’s own unique voice. Unlike the “wrong” example, this paraphrase does not simply plug new words into the source’s sentences; this example creates its own new sentences. Paraphrases are the place where most plagiarism occurs because writers sometimes forget to check how close what they have written sounds to the original. Some authorities suggest reading the passage to be paraphrased, closing the book, and writing the paraphrase in your own words without consulting the text. After you have finished, then check to make sure you have not accidentally used similar phrases or words.

Summaries and Plagiarism
Similar in many ways to paraphrases, summaries are another place where writers can accidentally plagiarize by repeating key words and phrases. Since summaries provide only a brief version of a source’s main ideas, it is harder to make mistakes here, but they do sometimes happen. You may want to use the same method outlined above for paraphrasing to write your summaries, writing without looking at the passage you are summarizing and then checking to make sure it’s not too close.

Documentation and Plagiarism
The final place where plagiarism accidentally occurs is in documentation. If you fail to provide a proper academic citation following the rules for the style of writing you have been asked to use, you have committed plagiarism, even if you did not mean to. Many writers believe that citations are only needed when you use a quotation. This is not true. Citations are needed whenever you borrow facts, ideas, or information from an outside source and use it in your paper.

• All quotations, paraphrases, and summaries must be properly cited with an in-text citation and a works cited entry.

You should make yourself familiar with the conventions for each style of writing by using The Paper Experts style guides and follow them exactly in creating your own in-text citations and works cited entries. Remember, documentation is the way you prove to your readers that you are academically honest. If you are unsure whether something needs documentation, do it anyway. When in doubt, document.

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to create your own thought-provoking, analytical essays based on your own ideas and unique points of view. By analyzing and discussing material you have borrowed from other sources, you will be forced to recognize the debt you owe to the authors you have cited and you will become more aware of your use of summary, paraphrase, and quotation. An essay should be mainly your ideas and thoughts, not those of your sources. It is harder to plagiarize when you are doing most of thinking and most of the writing. Though it may seem like a lot of work, avoiding plagiarism while writing can save you from negative consequences later on when someone finds out. If you follow the simple rules for quoting correctly and creating honest paraphrases and summaries, all with appropriate documentation, you will never again have to hear the dreaded phrase “this paper seems to have been plagiarized.”

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