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Research Tutorial: Plagiarism


Video Transcript

You’ve just been asked by the scariest professor in the college to give a very short presentation and turn in a brief write-up of an issue. To make matters worse, the professor has given you the topic of global warming. The only thing you know about global warming is the handful of comments you’ve read on Twitter or random sites online or as taglines on cute pictures of polar bears on Facebook.

Scariest of all, the professor recently failed your friend when he finished his own presentation and gave him a big lecture. The professor claimed that your friend used someone else’s materials and he did something called PLAGIARIZING. You don’t want to get into trouble. You want to do the right thing. But, how?  

Well, just what the heck is plagiarism anyway?  Plagiarism takes place when a writer or a speaker uses someone else's words or ideas without giving credit to the source.  The basic idea here is that when you find ideas online or in a book, you need to let the professor and the reader where you found that information.

Here is part of what your friend turned in for his assignment:

Global warming is a big problem. The world’s 6.5 billion people pump into the earth’s atmosphere twice the amount of carbon dioxide in the world’s forest and oceans can naturally absorb. The remaining carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere and traps heat in a phenomena known as the greenhouse effect.

Well, so what’s the problem? Your professor asked how your friend knew that the amount of carbon dioxide was double what the earth could absorb. Your friend did not know. He told the professor that these were his own words and he did his research online.

Alright, let’s look again at the passage and figure what the problem was. Well, the first sentence was written by your friend. The underlined portion was actually copied and pasted from an article by Patrick Gonzales. Your friend simply took Gonzales’s words and put them into his paper. Big Mistake!

Well at least you know what plagiarism means, but how can you avoid it if you’re supposed to do research on global warming? You know very little about it. That professor is certainly making you warm right now. But what can you do? Why can’t you just grab an online research article and use it?

Is using another source always theft or plagiarism? The answer is more complicated than you might imagine. It’s not always as simple as shamelessly stealing somebody else’s work. But before we explore the forms of plagiarism in more depth, let’s be clear why you should care about plagiarism.

It’s not just an issue for evil college professors. Plagiarism is important for several reasons, and we’ll look at just a few.

Number 1

Yes, you do want to avoid getting into trouble with the shadowy professor. You need to get a good grade and your need to get credit for the assignment. Your future career depends on completing your education. And, plagiarism is a serious issue of Academic Dishonesty and Misconduct.

Number 2 - Theft

Your friend did write some of the words he used in his assignment. The person who did the hard work of writing was Patrick Gonzales. Gonzales also allowed his work to be published online. This takes a great deal of effort. You probably worked hard for your car or your phone. Imagine if someone took from you and used it without your permission. The thief or borrower did not ask you. And, they did not have to work at all for the object. That’s pretty terrible, right?

Number 3 - Credibility

It’s important to use your own ideas and explanations in your writing. However; it’s very useful and sometimes necessary to bring in outside experts or sources to help you make your point. I mean you don’t know how much sea ice has melted or if it is melted at all.  

The author we mentioned earlier, Patrick Gonzales, has this information. You can use his words if you give him credit. When you do this correctly, writing begins to sound more believable because you are not relying solely on your own thoughts.

Okay, there are two basic types of plagiarism; intentional and unintentional. Intentional plagiarism is unfortunately what your friend did. He copied and pasted someone else’s work into his project. When asked about it, he told the professor the words were his own. He knew what he was doing was dishonest by using Gonzales's words to improve his own writing. That’s pretty cut and dried.

Unintentional plagiarism is when you use someone else’s words and do not properly give credit or are unaware of how to correctly bring in an outside source. The good news here is that you will learn about how to effectively handle sources in your college courses. Mind you, if you get it wrong, it’s still considered plagiarism and has to be fixed. But this doesn’t involve being dishonest and trying to cheat. Even the mean old professor will probably help you sort this out if you asked early in the semester for help. 

Avoiding plagiarism

You’ve found several sources for your project and plan to use them in your presentation and as part of the written part of the assignment. You know enough about plagiarism to know that you must give an author credit. This is where things get tricky. There are essentially three ways to research material to avoid plagiarism.

Method Number 1: Summary

You’ve found a great passage from a source that covers some of the material you want to have in your presentation. However; the passage is very long and you don’t want to have to put the entire passage in quotes. You definitely don’t want to plagiarize. A summary might be a good option for you. A summary is a short restatement of the material in your own words. It should be much shorter than the actual material being used. For example, a summary of an entire chapter can often be summarized in about a paragraph.   The goal of the summary is to mention all the main points so that the reader has a general idea about the material without getting into all the details.  The idea here is to put the material in your own words and give credit to the source.  

Let’s look at a simple example. The following material is from Mary Lou Constantine’s, Climate Change Will Force the Relocation of Animal Species. Now take a look at a possible summary. Note that the summary is much shorter and gives the author credit at the end. It also does not use the language from the source.

One way of doing a summary is to pretend you are explaining to a friend what the source was about and you only have one minute to do it!  The key is to put the material in your own words and then give credit to the author.

Method Number 2: Paraphrase

A second tool for handling material and avoiding the perils of plagiarism is to paraphrase. It is very similar to a summary. However; the length of the paraphrase does not need to be shorter than the original source. Again, you need to put the author’s ideas into your own words but also give credit to the author.  Do NOT copy the structure or wording of the source. 

Let’s look at another example from Mary Lou Constantine’s Climate Change Will Force the Relocation of Animal Species. Now let’s look at one possible paraphrase. Notice that the paraphrase captures the meaning of the material but does not use the structure of the words of the source.  

Method Number 3: Quotation

Perhaps the simplest way to avoid the ire of the professor and his wrath is to simply quote a source. We’ll go into the specifics of how to quote in-depth later. But the process, for now, is relatively simple. All you have to do is introduce the author and then state the quote.

Consider this example of Fred Warmington’s, He’s Warming Up to the Orb. Here’s one way to quote the author effectively. Note that the author is introduced in the sentence. This gives the credit to the author and keeps your project safe from being accused of plagiarism.

Well, Oscar Wilde once wrote, “there is no sin except stupidity." That may or not be true, but one thing is certain, plagiarism is stupid. You steal someone else’s which leaves you stupid. And you stupidly assume you won’t get caught. The truth is there’s a whole lot of tools out there to combat plagiarism. You will be busted. You also can no longer claim ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism. Thanks to this video. Your professors never believe that excuse anyway.     

There are also consequences.  You may flunk your class, get kicked out of school, be publicly shamed, get sued, or lose your job. Don’t join the growing wall of plagiarism shame.

(Video provided by the PGCC English Department)