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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions




Plagiarizing has stiff penalties.  How can you avoid it?


What Is Plagiarism?

Facts about Plagiarizing: An Honest Discussion

Five Levels: From Extreme Plagiarism to Safety

Getting Rid of the Need to Plagiarize




This chapter discusses what all good instructors consider a highly unethical act: plagiarism.  If an instructor thinks you have committed plagiarism, even if accidental, the least of disciplines you can expect is a requirement to rewrite your paper.  Often, instructors enact some kind of penalty, from mild to extremely serious, depending on the instructor and situation.  Professors of top universities have even lost their jobs, and in the publishing world, authors have had their popular books banned and even returned and destroyed because of their plagiarism.  Plagiarism also is pretty easy to detect if a professor decides to check for it.  So, it is important to know what plagiarism is so that you can not only avoid the temptation of doing it purposely, but also avoid the accidental forms of it.

(Note: Much of this chapter is from


What Is Plagiarism?

"Plagiarism" is using someone else's words or ideas without giving that person credit.  It means taking the exact words of someone without using quotation marks (" ") and the author's name to indicate you've borrowed them, and it also means borrowing someone else's idea using your own words--and not giving the original author credit.

"Plagiarism" does not mean you can never use others' words or ideas--you should do so often and thoroughly; just be sure to give credit to the authors.  "Plagiarism" also does not mean you should fear expressing your own ideas because you're worried that someone else has already written about them, and you'll get in trouble for calling them your own: just look up the idea after you get it and, if someone else also has thought of it, give that author secondary credit, as in saying, "One idea is to ___.  This also has been described by [author]."

One example of plagiarism is a Harvard professor who was fired because he accidentally (according to him) forgot to add quotation marks around quotations from other authors in a book he wrote.  Another example is of someone who wrote a business report for a teacher in college, and it turned out that he had copied both words and ideas from a secret document at his workplace, and another student recognized the document; the student was docked two weeks' pay and put on probation for a year in his professional workplace, and lost a lot of respect as a result.

There also is a version of "accidental" plagiarism that students often commit but instructors don't realize is accidental.  Some students fresh out of high school think that it is okay to take an idea from a source and, as long as they are putting it in their own words, they don't need to supply the source name.  For example, someone looking up an idea in Wikipedia and then changing the words but writing about the same idea is committing plagiarism if Wikipedia and the author in it are not given credit.  Many instructors do not realize that students in high school sometimes are allowed to do this; an instructor may penalize you for this accidental form of plagiarism just as much as if you were trying purposely to cheat.


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Facts about Plagiarizing

Sooner or later in college, the thought of plagiarizing occurs to a majority of students.  It goes something like this: “I hate to write” (or) “I only have one hour.  What if I just copy the thing from the Internet?”

Before you give in to this temptation, consider these facts:

Straightforward, Honest Discussion about Plagiarizing

a.      So, you know you're bad to even consider it.  However, the idea is a temptation: it sounds so quick and easy.

b.      However, plagiarizing is the big, red-for-danger "P" word in all good instructors' minds: "PLAGIARISM."  To both instructors and administrators--and most of the professional world--this is a very dirty word.  Plagiarizers are given F's on papers, flunked out of classes or schools, placed on academic probation, tossed off school teams, fined or kicked out of jobs, and sometimes even sued for millions of bucks.  If you're caught, your name can be far worse than mud. 

c.      Second, there's no good reason to skip writing lessons.  You need plenty of practice because virtually all surveys show that 50-90% of people's professional time is spent writing.  And you will look dumb and unworthy if you can't write competently.  The better you write, usually the better your salary and jobs.

d.      Third, the sneaky part of your mind might still ask--especially if you're in a crunch and a little woozy from too much of something the night before--"Who's going to find out this time?"

e.      So, fourth, the answer is, "Your teacher easily can."  Seriously, the great majority of instructors have ways of discovering your plagiarism by using web searches or special software programs, many of which are free: just try, for example, doing a web search for "detecting plagiarism."  Instructors--who tend to be fairly smart--usually work hard at trying to catch plagiarists. 

f.       Fifth, you'll end up sounding like someone else, and you also may have a bibliography with print or URL sources ten or twenty years out of date--and not even from your own school's library resources.  Some instructors can actually tell by the style of your writing, your bibliography sources, and even the way you use punctuation that you've copied someone.  Sometimes they can even tell what school you attended before theirs, just from your writing style--and what is NOT your old school's writing style.

g.      So, sixth, get some muscle to your heart, gut, and mind: do the  paper.  If it turns out bad or is just a rough draft, show it to the teacher, ask for an extension, and offer to take a one-letter-grade penalty.  If you're too late to turn in anything at all, apologize to the  teacher afterward, ask if you can still turn a paper in for a reduced grade, and prepare to eat crow: some instructors are more flexible, but only for those students who ask for it and who apologize. 

      In the professional world to which you are headed, a bad memo or report usually is better than no performance at all.  And even no performance may be forgivable at least once.  But faking it ruins your rep--and often your job--forever.


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Five Levels: From Extreme Plagiarism to Complete Safety

Let’s go into the details more about how to avoid plagiarism.  Knowing the details may save your grade and your academic career.

The most important act in avoiding plagiarism is to give credit to the author for anything belonging to the author’s speaking, writing, or thinking.  Second, if you are using an author’s actual words, you must use quotation marks before and after the author’s words. 

There are five levels of plagiarism or lack of it.

Five Levels of Plagiarism vs. Non-Plagiarism


      You are clearly committing plagiarism when you buy or copy an entire paper, or hire someone else to write the paper for you.  The same is true if you purposely pretend to quote or paraphrase a source by making up words, ideas, and/or the source. 

      PENALTY: These are all flunking-level events.  Most instructors will flunk your paper, a number will flunk you out of the course, and some schools will flunk you out of the school or place you on academic probation.  If you are caught doing this, especially more than once, you are considered, at that time, morally and ethically unfit for a degree. 


      You are committing plagiarism when you steal an author’s words by copying them to your own paper with neither the quotation marks around them nor credit given by providing the author’s name. 
EXCEPTION: If you have forgotten the quotation marks OR the author’s name, but not both, then this form of plagiarism likely is an accident.  If it appears accidental in this way, usually the great majority of instructors will assume you made a mistake, and that you were not intentionally trying to plagiarize. They will ask you to correct the mistake by adding so that you have both quotation marks and the author’s name.
NOTE: If an expert gives you a direct oral quotation—as in an interview or speech—you still must use quotation marks around the quotation and provide the person’s name.
PENALTY: If you clearly committed this kind of plagiarism intentionally, you likely will receive the same kind of consideration as in “1” above.  If you clearly committed plagiarism accidentally as described immediately above, then you likely will simply have to rewrite or, if revision is not allowed, lose points on your paper as you would for other major or minor problems in the paper.


      You may be committing intentional or accidental plagiarism when you change an author’s quotation into your own words without providing the author’s name, or you take an idea that is exclusive to the author and you write it as if it were your own idea, without the author’s name.  However, instructors consider both of these acts plagiarism.  You MUST GIVE CREDIT TO THE AUTHOR even when you place the author’s ideas into your own words. 
This is accidental only in that many people think they are not plagiarizing if they change an author’s words or ideas into their own words.  But it is still plagiarism.  Plagiarism means “not giving credit for words or an idea.”  If you use an author’s idea (and it is unique to the author), then you MUST give the author credit.  Not doing so can get you in just as much trouble as plagiarizing as can using an author’s own words as if they were your own—many instructors do not see any difference between the two, no matter what you might have intended.
NOTE: Using your own words for an author’s idea is actually a good thing.  It is called “paraphrasing,” and in many disciplines you are expected to paraphrase a lot.  The key is to always give the original author credit after (or before) the paraphrase. 
PENALTY: If you plagiarize in this way but you didn’t know it is plagiarism, you will have a great deal of difficulty proving you didn’t know.  This is true in particular if you are a sophomore or higher, or if you have already taken first-year composition.  You may in some cases have to suffer the penalties described in “1” above.  However, if you really didn’t know the difference, it may be worth your time to apologize, explain you didn’t know the difference, and offer to fix the paper or replace it with a new one: in either case, you still should be prepared for some kind of penalty, such as lost points or a lower grade.


      You have not plagiarized an author if you have
A. given the author credit for the author’s words or ideas by giving the author’s name, and you have ALSO done one or more of these three things:

      B.  i. used quotation marks around (or an indent for)
        the author’s own words,
     ii. changed an author’s words to your own words, or
    iii. used an author’s idea.
The most important part in avoiding plagiarism is to give credit to the author for anything belonging to the author’s speaking, writing, or thinking.  Secondly, if you are using an author’s actual words, you must use quotation marks around—or indent—them. 


      You have not plagiarized when you use common knowledge or your own ideas.

      Common Knowledge: This means that a number of people have observed it, or it is measurable by a number of different people.  For example, the distance between the sun and the earth is measurable by a large number of people, so it is common knowledge, and you do not have to give an author credit for it; however, a recent discovery in astronomy made by just one or a small group of astronomers needs, when quoted or paraphrased, to be given credit.  For undergraduate writing, often a useful rule of thumb is that if you can find a fact in a reference book—or in three sources—with none of them quoting a specific original source, then the fact is common knowledge.

      Your Own Idea: If an idea obviously is your own, then you don’t need to quote anyone.  But what should you do if you develop an idea and then later discover it in a source?  The safest way to handle it is to offer it as your own idea but also cite the source: for example, you might write, “Highly emotional people often have a life of dramatic contrasts, an idea also mentioned by Dr. Joy Tamura.”  And then you would include Tamura in your bibliography. 


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Getting Rid of the Need to Plagiarize

There are two powerful reasons why many people are tempted in the first place to plagiarize.  Does either apply to you?  One of the reasons is that you have only a day (or an hour) to get your paper turned in, and you don’t know how to start.  The other problem, sometimes related to the first, is that you can’t find or create a good subject.  Here are potential solutions.

1. My paper is due tomorrow and I don't know how to start! Try one of these:

  1. Reread your assignment two more times--and actually take notes on it.

  2. Try some different ways of starting your paper: wild brainstorming, talking with someone, drawing a picture of an idea, et al.  For more ideas, see "Chapter 2. Starting" in

  3. Check out what others have done in Chapter 12: Sample Papers" or "Chapter 20: Writing in Fields and Disciplines" in  Click on the type of paper you need, and follow the most explicit directions or example you can find.

  4. How soon is "tomorrow" coming?  If there's time, ask your professor--or ask a tutor in your tutoring center.

  5. Ask your friends in this order: i. those who've had the course and got A's or B's;
    ii. those who've had the course; iii. anyone alive you can find.

  6. Write anything and, tomorrow, show your rough draft and beg for an extension.

2. I can't think of a good subject!  Try one of these:

  1. Most professors don't bite (or if they do, they're not infectious), so ask him or her.  (It's better to annoy a professor a little than be a total unknown.)

  2. For a general or starting writing class: Take your assignment to your school's writing or tutoring center and ask a tutor to help guide you in developing your own ideas.

  3. For a writing assignment in a specific discipline (e.g., literature, philosophy, or one of the sciences): Take your assignment to your school's subject-oriented tutoring center and ask a tutor in that subject.

  4. Ask a favorite professor, a friend, or someone who gets A's or B's in the subject or class.

  5. Take the assignment to a librarian and give the librarian his or her thrill of the day by asking for help in choosing a subject (and tell them you only have 15-30 minutes before they give you 10,001 sources or 101 ways to search the web). 


If you make the effort to not plagiarize, you will be safe, you’ll learn more, and you will be following the ethical path.  Whichever reason you choose for not plagiarizing, it is dangerous to try to plagiarize.  Faculty members have a host of ways to find out, often without even telling you.  And the penalties for plagiarizing just aren’t worth it. 


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 36. What Is "Research"?

 37. Research Process

 38. Choosing Resources

 39. Developing the Paper

 40. Quoting/Paraphrasing

 41. Avoiding Plagiarism

 42. Critical Thinking



MLA Ppr. Examples:
   Dialogic Args.
   Thesis Args.

APA Ppr. Examples:
   Case Studies
   Mag. Article


 Related Links in

  Examples of Several
  Bibliography Styles

  12. Types of Papers


  14. Online Readings

  16. Research Writing

  17. Citation & Documentation

  18. References & Resources

  19. Visual/Multimodal Design

  20. Major/Work Writing


Updated 1 Aug. 2013

   also is at and

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Previous editions: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
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Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.



















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