Plagiarism and Citations
Plagiarism: How to Avoid It
When Do We Give Credit?
The key to avoiding plagiarism is to make sure you give credit where it is due. This may be credit for something somebody said, wrote, emailed, drew, or implied. Many professional organizations, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA), have lengthy guidelines for citing sources. However, students are often so busy trying to learn the rules of MLA format and style or APA format and style that they sometimes forget exactly what needs to be credited. Here is a brief list of what needs to be credited or documented:
- Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, website, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium
- Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing
- When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase
- When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
- When you reuse or repost any digital media, including images, audio, video, or other media
Bottom line, document any words, ideas, or other productions that originate somewhere outside of you.
There are certain things that do not need documentation or credit, including:
- Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject
- When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments
- When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
- When you are using "common knowledge," things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents)
- When you are using generally-accepted facts (e.g., pollution is bad for the environment) including facts that are accepted within particular discourse communities (e.g., in the field of composition studies, "writing is a process" is a generally-accepted fact).
Deciding If Something Is "Common Knowledge"
Generally speaking, you can regard something as common knowledge if you find the same information undocumented in at least five credible sources. Additionally, it might be common knowledge if you think the information you are presenting is something your readers will already know or something that a person could easily find in general reference sources. But when in doubt, cite; if the citation turns out to be unnecessary, your teacher or editor will tell you.
What are the Differences Among Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing?
These three ways of incorporating other writers' work into your own writing differ according to the closeness of your writing to the source writing.
Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.
Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.
Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.