Plagiarism: The Gray Area

Previously published April 2015.

As students, we are all expected to know what plagiarism is. The Towson University 2014-2015 Student Academic Integrity Policy plainly spells out what plagiarism is: “Presenting work, products, ideas, words, or data of another as one’s own.” This definition covers the basic premise of what it means to steal someone’s work; however, there is a lot of gray area when it comes to what constitutes as plagiarism.

During syllabus week, it is not uncommon for professors to tell horror stories of students they caught plagiarizing work. If a student is caught stealing or copying someone else’s work, or even ideas, they can be subject to failing the course, or even suspension from the university. There are many circumstances where students are penalized, or even failed, for plagiarism without even realizing that they stole anything at all.

“Steal” and “copy” are two words that seem to go hand-in-hand with “plagiarism,” but it doesn’t just stop there. It is easy to fall through the cracks of plagiarism without directly copying and pasting someone’s work. In fact, there are different degrees of severity when it comes to plagiarism.

Infographic_Did-I-Plagiarize

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Plagiarism can be as minimal as missing page numbers on citations or as severe as blatant theft of content.

The concept of plagiarism can be confusing for a lot of students, so it’s important to know what exactly constitutes as plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Allison Peer, one of the Assistant Directors for the Office of Student Conduct & Civility Education, coordinates the Academic Integrity Process and handles instances when plagiarism has been reported. Allison meets with students who have committed serious forms of plagiarism or second time offenders; however, she also works with students who fall into the “gray area” of plagiarism.

“Students have this pressure to do well,” Peer stated, when asked about the issue of plagiarism. “When you get into a desperate situation, you may be willing to do something you wouldn’t normally do.” This is the same for situations where students may not even realize that what they have done is plagiarism.

Here are some instances of plagiarism that students may not normally consider:

Using previous work without citing yourself

Even though you may have written a paper, done a study, or completed a lab, it is still important to cite yourself if you are using the information elsewhere. If anyone else was to use your work, they would be expected to cite it. So, the same goes for if you are using your own work. Towson is an environmentally friendly campus, but this is the kind of recycling you should avoid.

Reusing work that you have already submitted

Even if the subject matter is similar, the citations are all in order, and you got an A on the assignment, you can absolutely get into trouble by resubmitting work. If you make small changes or move a few sentences around, it will still be considered plagiarism. If you did well the first time, work just as hard on the next assignment and don’t risk failing the assignment because of plagiarism!

Not properly paraphrasing

Paraphrasing can be tricky. It can be difficult to discuss a thought that someone else had without quoting it exactly. When it comes to paraphrasing, you’re best bet is to play it safe; otherwise, it may look like you’re copying someone’s idea, rather than using it to support your own. Try putting away your book or article when you write your notes so you are forced to put the ideas into your own words. Allison Peer often sees students get themselves into trouble for “trying to paraphrase, but not doing so well enough.

Not citing every source

You may have cited most of your sources, but if you leave any out, even one, you are plagiarizing. It can be tedious citing multiple sources and may seem easier to just cite the ones that you relied on the most; however, spending the extra time on citing every source you used will benefit you in the long run.

First Draft Plagiarism

Make sure you properly cite and avoid copying text in your first draft. Even though it is not the finished project, it is still considered plagiarism if you turn in a draft that violates any rules regarding plagiarism. Make sure you include a work cited page or a bibliography, even on your drafts.

False Citations

It is easy to assume that professors aren’t going to check every source you include; however, falsifying citations can get you into serious trouble. Make sure any links you include in your citation are real and lead to the page that you say they do.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

There is a broad spectrum of what can be considered plagiarism and it is important to know what could proxy-url=http%3A%2F%2Fs1.ibtimes.com%2Fsites%2Fwww.ibtimes.com%2Ffiles%2Fstyles%2Fcontributors_nets%2Fpublic%2F2013%2F05%2F31%2Fplaga-main.jpg&container=blogger&gadget=a&rewriteMime=image%2F-potentially compromise your academic integrity. Towson University fosters students to uphold a standard of academic achievement and excellence, so it is important for us, as students, to make sure we avoid falling into pitfalls, such as plagiarism.

If you are ever confused or have questions about plagiarism, there are plenty of resources you can access to get quick answers.

  • Talk to your faculty about their expectations when it comes to plagiarism.
  • plagiarism.org and www.writecheck.com are excellent online resources for checking your work to ensure that you haven’t plagiarized.
  • Check out Towson University’s 2014-2015 Student Academic Integrity Policy. It spells out exactly what the university considers to be plagiarism.
  • The Writing Center and The Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education are always willing to help and answer questions regarding plagiarism.
  • The Albert S. Cook Library also has tons of resources on how to avoid plagiarism, as well as citation help guides that can save you from making simple citation mistakes.

It can be tricky to stay out of the gray area of plagiarism, but when in doubt, just make sure you are using proper citations and giving credit where credit is due. Be sure to familiarize yourself with what plagiarism is and how to avoid getting caught up in it.

For more information, please visit:
http://www.towson.edu/studentaffairs/judicialaffairs/index.asp
http://www.osrr.calpoly.edu/plagiarism/
http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism/
http://cooklibrary.towson.edu/avoidingPlagiarism.cfm
http://thevisualcommunicationguy.com/2014/09/16/did-i-plagiarize-the-types-and-severity-of-plagiarism-violations/

Conor Reynolds
A-LIST Student, Cook Library
alist

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