When Plagiarism Happens to Good People

Not all plagiarism is intentional. Sometimes students don’t quite understand how to cite correctly. (And I know that instructors are now yelling about how students have been taught. But professors have researched so much that they sometimes forget it’s a hard skill to learn.)

So for students who are unclear on what constitutes plagiarism, here are some basic rules:

  • Anything that comes from a source that you put in your paper must be cited. It should be cited in the paper itself and on the works cited page.
  • If you are using the source word for word, then you must put quotations around it or put it in block quote format.
  • Most of the time, you will paraphrase and summarize your source material. You must still cite it because the thought was not yours.

Why does unintentional plagiarism happen? I’ve never done a study on the subject, but my teaching experience (and being a student once) tells me that there are some core reasons:

  • Students leave their assignments to the last minute and plagiarize because they’re just trying to get something turned in.
  • They don’t know how to write a research paper but have one assigned in a non-composition class.
  • They have received a bad grade before on a research paper but didn’t get  feedback on how to improve.
  • They don’t ask for help.

Luckily, all of these can be overcome. There is quite a bit of good information out there on the research process. Here is some of it:

And, of course, don’t forget the personal touch. Talk to your instructor. Stop by the library or learning center. You’ll find people who want to help you stay plagiarism-free!


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