Recognizing plagiarism

by Kristin Kayser

Plagiarism is that daunting crime that professors have been warning students of since day one. They don’t want you to accidentally fall into that trap and you don’t want to either; in fact, many teachers will help you if you have questions or if either of you suspects plagiarism in your work. So, you know what it is—taking someone else’s words or ideas and claiming them as your own—but are you sure you know how to recognize it in one of your own papers?

First, read through your paper, not to proofread but to check for consistency in your tone/voice. (You can do this silently, aloud, or even have a friend read it to you.) If you begin the paper sounding like yourself and somewhere in the middle turn into someone else, it’s a major red flag. Chances are you may have missed placing quotation marks somewhere or paraphrased too closely to the original text. When a student’s voice or tone is inconsistent, there’s a chance that there is plagiarism involved.

Another indication of plagiarism can be poor or uncited paraphrasing, as can some instances of word choice. If you wouldn’t use the word yourself but found it in a source, then you need to cite it and possibly place it in quotation marks and give context for it.

And remember: using the correct citation form and style is just as important as using quotation marks. If you have questions, check the relevant style manual (such as Chicago, MLA, APA) or check with someone who can help you find an answer.

If you ever have any questions about plagiarism or citations, you can always ask your professor or a writing tutor or set up a meeting with someone in the Center for Teaching and Learning. Accidental plagiarism is an easy fix, once you know what to look for.

Kristin Kayser is a senior majoring in educational studies and will be working at the Walt Disney Company this coming fall.

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