The Facts About Plagiarism

A section cut out of Wikipedia titled "Plagiarism"
From Boston University

Imagine the following scene-

You get an email from your professor.  He has found that you “were guilty of plagiarism” and therefore receiving a “0” for the course.  Furthermore, this goes in your academic record.  You might lose scholarships, not qualify for student loans, your life will change… and not for the better.  All just because you put off writing that paper until the last minute and slapped it together without checking the citations or watching your quotes.

Some forms of plagiarism are obvious-

DON’T CUT AND PASTE into your papers, especially from Wikipedia! Think about it, if you can use Google so can your professor.  Also, it shows you didn’t even research a decent source…really…. You can do better!

Also, many instructors may use software to check for plagiarism.  Taking a phrase or section and changing a couple words is NOT paraphrasing, that is still considered plagiarism.

If you are writing a complex paper and you want to put in sources and paraphrase them later, go ahead and do it, but make sure you make it very clear to yourself what you have copied so you will remember to rephrase it.  One way you can do this is to highlight the section in a bright color and then when the section is correctly paraphrased and cited take the highlighting away.

The best way is to read your source material and close the book or minimize the screen, think about it and write about it entirely in your own words.  The process of really thinking or synthesizing the thoughts in a paper is where YOU really learn – and learning is what you are here to do, right?

If a source says something  amazingly well go ahead and quote it, just make sure that there are quotes at the beginning and the end of the words you are using and there is a citation.

You should cite everything in your paper that is not –

 1) Your own experience

Example: Gusts of wind almost blew my hat off as I walked the narrow sidewalk spanning the London Bridge.

 2) General knowledge

Example: The winters in Michigan are generally colder than in Kentucky.

3) Your analysis or opinion

Example: The colors in the background of the poster made it hard to read the text.

In many ways, writing is the ultimate function of the learning process.  It is where you personalize and internalize what you have either heard or read.  It is where you develop a voice, where you can show what you have learned, where you can shine.

Sometimes students worry that their grammar isn’t good enough, or they don’t have the vocabulary to express what they want to say—that is where the Writing Center can help.  We can talk about what you want to communicate and look at your organization, structure, word choice, and finally even talk about grammar.

To see MSU’s resources on plagiarism see

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