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Plagiarism: Why It’s a Big Deal & How to Avoid It

5 Nov

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism, otherwise known as academic dishonesty, includes but is not limited to the intentional uses, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgement. It also includes the intentional unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of essays or other academic materials. Plagiarism generally falls into two categories: intentional plagiarism and unintentional plagiarism.

Intentional Plagiarism:

  • Passing off another’s work as one’s own
  • Copying all or part of an essay from an outside source without providing proper documentation
  • Cutting and pasting information from the internet without providing proper documentation
  • Allowing someone else to complete the assignment
  • Borrowing words, ideas, or images from outside sources without providing proper documentation
  • Failing to put quotation marks around material taken directly from a source
  • Falsifying a quotation or supporting information

Unintentional Plagiarism:

  • Paraphrasing poorly
    • Changing the wording, but not the sentence structure
    • Changing the sentence structure, but not the wording
    • Failing to provide proper documentation for a paraphrase
  • Quoting poorly
    • Putting quotation marks around only part of a quotation
    • Putting quotation marks around a passage that is not entirely a direct quotation
    • Failing to provide proper documentation for a direct quote
  • Citing poorly
    • Failing to provide proper documentation for any information taken from a source
      • This includes information that is directly quoted, summarized, or paraphrased
    • Omitting an occasional citation or citing inaccurately.

Why is plagiarism such a big deal?

When plagiarizing, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the student is passing off another’s work as their own. It is important as students to give credit where credit is due. Furthermore, college instructors want to see that their students can 1) show they have a clear understanding of the material they are working with, 2) use source information appropriately to support the ideas that they are working with, and 3) provide their own contribution to the conversation by distinguishing their input and analysis from the information provided by sources. This is part of the reason why it is so important for students to submit their own work and cite their sources appropriately. In addition, plagiarizing can carry very serious consequences.

The Real-Life Consequences of Plagiarizing:

  • A student charged with plagiarism for failing to cite or paraphrase correctly was expelled from a study abroad program and sent home early.
  • A student who copy/pasted information from the internet was charged with plagiarism, received a zero for the assignment, and failed the course.
  • A student charged with plagiarizing several writing assignments received a zero for each assignment, a zero for the course, and faced potential zeros in previously completed courses where plagiarism was suspected.
  • Janet Cooke, a journalist for the Washington Post, fabricated parts of a story that earned a Pulitzer Prize. After realizing the story was fabricated, Cooke’s Pulitzer was withdrawn.
  • New Jersey school board president, Melissa Elias, plagiarized portions of a commencement speech. Elias was forced to resign.
  • Jayson Blair, a New York Times reporter, was forced to resign after he “fabricated comments… concocted scenes… [and] lifted material from other newspapers and wire services.”
  • Two of Romance novelist Janet Dailey‘s publications were pulled from print after it was discovered that she borrowed plot points and passages from writer Nora Roberts. Dailey also had to pay a settlement to Roberts.

Tips to Avoid Plagiarism:

  • Document your sources carefully! Even as you are drafting an assignment, keep a list of the sources that you are using and note where and how you are using the source. This can help with including the appropriate citation later on!
  • Keep your style manual handy! Use your APA, MLA, or other style manual to help you double-check your summaries, paraphrases, direct quotes, and citations.
  • Pay close attention to how you use source material:
    • Put all direct quotations in quotation marks.
    • Change the words and sentence structures when paraphrasing.
    • If including a part of the original source in a summary or paraphrase, place that part in quotation marks!
    • Include a parenthetical citation for every quote, summary, or paraphrase.
    • Include a Works Cited or References entry for any source referenced within the assignment.
  • When in doubt, cite the source anyway – and visit the Writing Center for help!

MLA Style & In-text Citations

23 Oct

In a previous post, Style Guides & How to Use Them, we discussed the APA style, MLA style, and Chicago style guides and how to use them, noting some of the similarities and differences between the three styles. Regardless of which style a writer is using, whenever information from an outside source is included, an in-text citation is needed. The construction of the in-text citation varies according to the style guide the writer is using.

MLA Style & In-Text Citations

In MLA Style, outside information is cited within a text using an author-page number citation system, where the writer includes the author’s (or authors’) last name and the page number where the information appeared in the publication. As the “Documenting Sources” chapter in A Writer’s Reference notes “MLA recommends in-text citations that refer the readers to a list of works cited. A typical in-text citation names the author of the source, often in a signal phrase, and gives a page number in parentheses. At the end of the paper, a list of works cited provides publication information about the source” (Hacker and Sommers 388-89).

The above quotation from Hacker and Sommers would correspond with the following Works Cited entry:

Hacker, Diana and Nancy L. Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. Print.

Any source used within the text, whether included in the form of a quotation, summary, or paraphrase, must be referenced with an in-text citation in the text itself, and with the corresponding full citation in the Works Cited list at the end of the text.

As Hacker and Sommers discuss in A Writer’s Reference, there are different ways that writers can include this citation information within the body of their writing. First, writers can choose to include the author’s name in a signal phrase. A signal phrase is a phrase, clause, or sentence that introduces a quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Including the author’s name in a signal phrase prepares readers for the source and allows writers to include only the page number in the parenthetical citation. For example:

Frederick Lane reports that employers do not necessary have to use software to monitor how their employees use the Web: employers can “use a hidden video camera pointed at an employee’s monitor” and even position a camera “so that a number of monitors [can] be viewed at the same time” (147).

Since Frederick Lane is the name of the author, and the writer has used his name in the signal phrase within the actual sentence, only the page number is included in the parenthetical citation. If a signal phrase does not name the author, then both the author’s last name and the page number need to be included in parentheses at the end of the sentence; no punctuation is needed between the author’s last name and the page number. For example:

Companies can monitor employees’ every keystroke without legal penalty, but they may have to combat low morale as a result (Lane 129).

In the previous example, the writer chose not to include Lane’s last name within the sentence itself, so both the last name and the page number must appear in the parenthetical citation. Often, the author’s name is used in the signal phrase when information from the source is first included – and many writers also incorporate the title of the publication as well. In subsequent references, writers can choose between the above examples according to their preference.

MLA Style in-text citations differ slightly when dealing with sources with no known author or page number. When dealing with a source without a known author, use the complete title when referencing the source in a signal phrase, and use a shortened version of the title when referencing the source in parentheses. For example:

According to the article “10 Minute Vegetable Chili,” not only is the dish delicious and vegetarian friendly, it is also “healthy and super easy to make” (3).

Vegetable chili, a delicious and vegetarian friendly dish, is “healthy and super easy to make” (“10 Minute” 3).

When dealing with a source without a known page number, such as a Web source, do not include the page number in the parenthetical citation. If using a PDF of an article available through a website, use the page number included in the PDF. If a source does not have page numbers but does include numbered paragraphs (“par.” or “pars.”) or sections (“sec.” or “secs.”), use these in place of the page number in the parenthetical citation. For example:

As a 2005 study by and American Online indicates, the Internet ranked as the top choice among employees for ways of wasting time on the job; it beat talking with co-workers – the second most popular method – by a margin of nearly two to one (Frauenheim).


As Jacobs explains, “[t]he stretch of Hudson Street where I live is each day the scene of an intricate sidewalk ballet” (par. 2).

Notes on MLA Style in-text citations:

  • When including a quotation in the text, it will appear as either a long quotation or a short quotation.
    • A long quotation is any quotation that is longer than four typed lines of prose (most standard writing) or three typed lines of verse (plays, poems, song lyrics, etc.). Set off long quotations by indenting and double-spacing the entire quotation. Quotation marks are not needed, but an in-text citation should follow.
    • A short quotation is any quotation that is shorter than four typed lines of prose or three lines of verse. Short quotations are included as a part of the original sentence, with the quoted material surrounded by quotations marks and an in-text citation at the end of the sentence.
  • When using a work with multiple authors:
    • Two authors: Name the authors in the signal phrase or include their last names in parentheses.
      • Kizza and Ssanyu note… (2).
      • (Kizza and Ssanyu 2).
    • Three authors: Name the authors in the signal phrase or include their last names in parentheses, separating their last names with commas.
      • Alton, Davies, and Rice… (56).
      • (Alton, Davies, and Rice 56).
    • Four or more authors: Name all of the authors or include only the first author’s name followed by “et al.” The format that you use should match the format in your Works Cited entry.
      • (Blaine, Martin, Smith and Springer 35)
      • (Blaine et al. 35)
  • Sometimes, an organization or corporation may be the author of the source. Name the organization or corporation in the signal phrase or parenthetical citation.
    • According to a 2001 survey of human resources managers by the American Management Association…. (2).
    • According to a 2001 survey of human resources managers… (American Management Association 2).

Style Guides & How to Use Them

17 Sep

What is a Style Guide?

A style guide is a publication that shows users how to format assignments and utilize sources according to a specified set of guidelines. There are many different style guides that contain the rules and regulations for successful use of a particular style (APA style, MLA style, etc.). Different styles have different rules. The good news is that once you master the ability to use one style and one style guide, you can easily use the others!

What is APA Style?

APA style is an editorial style recommended by the American Psychological Association (APA) for preparing scholarly manuscripts and student research papers. APA style is the standard format for papers, articles, and books in the social sciences. APA style specifies rules for formatting papers (including requirements for margins, line spacing, font, etc.) and citing ideas (information borrowed from other sources) through the use of in-text or parenthetical citations and a References page.

What is MLA Style?

MLA style is an editorial style recommended by the Modern Language Association (MLA), also for preparing scholarly manuscripts and student research papers. MLA style is commonly used in writing projects in the humanities (English, foreign languages, etc.). MLA style has its own rules for formatting papers (including requirements for margins, line spacing, font, the appearance of the first page, etc.) and citing ideas (information borrowed from other sources) through the use of in-text or parenthetical citations and a References page.

What is Chicago Style?

Chicago style, based on The Chicago Manual of Style, specifies guidelines on manuscript preparation and publication, as well as source documentation using one of two systems: the Notes-Bibliography system (preferred in literature, history and the arts) and the Author-Date system (preferred in the social sciences). Both systems are similar, but the Notes-Bibliography system is more commonly used. Using the Notes-Bibliography system, writers use endnotes or footnotes to reference sources throughout their writing, and a Bibliography listing the sources at the end.

APA, MLA, Chicago… What’s the Difference?

APA style in-text or parenthetical citations typically utilize the author or authors’ last name and the year the information was published (i.e.: (Smith, 2001)). Include a page number in APA style citations only when quoting from the source (i.e.: (Smith, 2001, p. 5). In social science fields, current information is often important, and the date is emphasized accordingly. The full citations in an APA style Reference list will first include the author or authors’ last names (and first initials), as well as the date of publication.

Example (Book): Calfree, R.C., & Valencia, R.R. (1991) APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association.

MLA style in-text or parenthetical citations use the author or authors’ last name and the page number where the information appeared (i.e.: (Smith 4)). This allows the reader to use the information in the parenthetical citation to locate the full citation on the MLA style Works Cited page, where they can then lookup the source for themselves, turn to the correct page, and find the exact information from the text. Full citations in an MLA style Works Cited differ slightly from full citations in APA style References list, in that the author’s full first name is included, and the year is listed in a different location.

Example (Book): Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Penguin, 1987. Print.

Using Chicago’s Notes-Bibliography system of citation, writers include a footnote or endnote instead of a parenthetical citation. The use of a footnote or endnote places a superscript number within the text, allowing the writer to include the necessary bibliographic information within the footnote (at the end of each page) or the endnote (at the end of the entire document). When referencing a source for the first time, the footnote or endnote should include all relevant information from the source (author’s full name, source title, and publication information). When referencing the source an additional time, include the author’s last name, shortened form of the title, and any page numbers. Chicago style also utilizes a Reference list with full citations for all sources cited within the work, and occasionally additional sources that provide further reading.

Example (Book): Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

When using APA, MLA, or Chicago style, citations will typically begin with the author or authors’ names. If no author is known, begin with the title. Our example book citations all include nearly the same information – the title of the book, the place of publication, the publisher, and the date – but this information is included in different areas and with different punctuation according to the style used to cite the source. This is why Style Guides are helpful! The Style Guide for each source will include the specific information (what elements to include where and what punctuation to use) as well as numerous examples for all different source types. Additionally, once you’ve learned how to navigate one Style Guide, it is easy to use that knowledge to approach a different Style Guide. Check out the Helpful Links and Info Sheets for more help with APA and MLA! 

APA Style Guide: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association*

MLA Style Guide: MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing*

Chicago Style Guide: The Chicago Manual of Style

*Grammar handbooks (like A Writer’s Reference) will typically include chapters on APA Style and MLA Style, with common formatting and citation information, and examples.

© Alyssa Ryan and The Christ College Writing Center (2013-2016)