Citing Sources / Plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is copying someone else’s words or ideas and pretending they are yours.
In some cultures, copying the words of an authority is perfectly acceptable and, sometimes, even desirable. Students demonstrate their knowledge of a subject by repeating or explaining the ideas of others.
In Western society, however, much importance is attached to individual creativity and originality. A person’s written (or spoken) words are considered intellectual property. If you do not mention the source of your information, even if the reader already knows where you got it, this is considered intellectual theft. You can compare this to material theft, for example, stealing something from a shop. Therefore, you should always avoid plagiarism at all costs, not in the least because there are severe consequences for students who are caught plagiarizing.

Deliberate and accidental plagiarism

Some plagiarism is obviously deliberate. For example when you copy-paste whole sections of a text into your own paper without mentioning the source or when you hand in a complete paper, written by someone else, under your own name. Other forms of plagiarism are accidental. For example, when you jotted down a quote on a piece of paper and later used this in your work without realizing it was a direct quotation or when you meant to paraphrase an idea but stayed too close to the syntax or phrasing of the original.

Examples of deliberate plagiarism:
  1. Submitting work written by or with someone else as if it were your own (also when it is copied or bought from another student).
  2. Using someone’s exact words without using quotation marks and indicating the source.
  3. Paraphrasing or summarizing someone else’s idea, theory, or discovery without mentioning the source.
  4. Handing in your essay for two or more different classes without the lecturer’s permission.
Examples of accidental plagiarism:
  1. Forgetting to place a quote in quotation marks.
  2. Omitting a source because you thought it was unnecessary.
  3. Paraphrasing or summarizing and forgetting to cite the source.

Still, also accidental plagiarism is an act of plagiarism. The same consequences apply to deliberate and accidental plagiarism.

Common knowledge

At times, it may be difficult to determine whether or not a source should be documented. On the whole, information that is common knowledge does not have to be documented. Common knowledge constitutes information that is widely available in encyclopaedias, reference books, newspapers and magazines. However, this does not include someone’s opinion in an editorial or a particular person’s discovery or theory (even if it appears in one of the sources above). (Kirszner & Mandell, 1999)

So, any information that is not commonly known or accepted, should be properly referenced. The same goes for research results, graphs, tables, drawings, statistics, etc. When in doubt, be safe and document your source.

Language plagiarism vs. plagiarism of ideas

There are two different kinds of plagiarism: 1) language plagiarism and 2) plagiarism of ideas.

1) Language plagiarism

Language plagiarism means you directly take over the language of your source without proper referencing. So even if you do not take over the actual idea, but just the language, this is also considered plagiarism.

Example: 2) Plagiarism of ideas

When you plagiarize ideas, you take somebody’s ideas or theories without acknowledging the source. Even if you put those ideas or theories into your own words, you have to document your source.

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