A key expectation of academic work is that what you submit is your own, and that you appropriately source words and ideas that are not your own. Since academic writing involves building on the ideas of others, knowing how to integrate that material with your own thinking is a fundamental skill for success. Writers who simply haven’t practiced that skill may find themselves submitting papers with unintentional plagiarism (which is by far the most common). The resources below explain what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it through careful use of source material, rhetoric, and citations.
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Put simply, plagiarism is when you claim the words or ideas of others as your own. Since all work you submit during an academic program is presumed to be yours, even leaving out a citation can lead to unintentional plagiarism.
Avoiding plagiarism means knowing how to integrate sources correctly into your writing, understanding the rules of the style guide you’re using, and having a big-picture understanding of academic honesty: the “why” behind all those seemingly arbitrary rules.
Any time you use someone else’s words or ideas (which you do in most academic papers), you need to be careful to track them through your research and drafting phases, attribute them in your writing phases, and ensure they are correctly cited during your final polishing phases.
Integrating sources well starts with research–taking good notes, actively synthesizing as you read, and making sure you put other people’s words in quotes in your notes are all ways to avoid accidental plagiarism down the line.
As you start to write, you’ll want to use quotations, paraphrases, and syntheses to describe other people’s ideas. Each integrates sources in a different way, and academic writers need to know how to do all three, and when each is appropriate.
As you finish your paper, you need to able to include citations in a consistent and appropriate format so that readers of your work can locate the source you used for a given idea. In academic writing, it is expected that your work fits into an ongoing conversation; citing your sources helps your readers know who contributed before you, and how you used their ideas.
Reading and Doing Research
- Active Reading Strategies
- Critical Reading Exercises
- Gathering Information
- Evaluating Research Generally
- Evaluating Empirical Research
- At Research and Documentation Online, Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister of Gustavus Adolphus College offer advice about how to find and document sources in Humanities, Social Sciences, History, and the Sciences.
Regardless of your field and specialty, you can rest assured that you will need to cite your sources and abide by the rules of a style guide. These resources focus on helping you manage those expectations, especially around the particulars of things like APA style.
- Citation Managers
- Antioch Seattle MA Psych Style Guidelines
- An Overview of APA Style
- Common Mistakes in APA Style
- Visit the American Psychological Association website for updated information regarding APA style and formatting guidelines for writing in the psychology and social sciences.
- Harvard’s website also features a detailed tutorial in the use of APA Style guidelines with audio narration of PowerPoint slides that is extremely informative and of particular use to auditory learners.
- Visit the Modern Language Association website for updated information regarding MLA style and formatting guidelines for writing in the humanities.
Part of academic writing is also managing your time and working sufficiently in advance to do your work well. If you are working at the last minute or find yourself committed, you may find yourself tempted to leave out a citation, to appropriate a quote, or even to copy and paste text from a source without attribution.
While everyone understands the desperation that can lead to academic dishonesty, the choice to engage in intentional plagiarism is a serious breach of conduct with serious consequences. In an academic program, it can lead to your being put on academic probation or kicked out of the University. Beyond student writing, plagiarism can cause you to lose all credibility in your field and destroy your academic or professional career.
Dorothy Capers, AUS PsyD Student & Anne Maxham, Ph.D., Director of Writing Support
Plagiarism today goes beyond the flagrant taking of another’s piece of writing and turning it as your own. With the internet, facile copying and pasting of others’ words can wreak havoc on your academic integrity.
Plagiarism is fundamentally the act of taking others’ words and using them as your own. The range of what identifies as plagiarism is complex: it may be intentional or unintentional; it may be in the form of paraphrases without citing the source, or word for word (seven or more words in sequence from the original source); or padding your writing with longer passages without citations.
Being charged with “academic dishonesty” or “plagiarism” is a gut-wrenching experience that no student wants to risk. The impact of being questioned about your authenticity can result in losing confidence as a writer and even have you doubt your purpose in studying at the university.
Beyond the emotional effects, other consequences can be dire, and sometimes result in failing the class, being put on academic probation, and worst of all expulsion from the university. All writers need to take precautions and make efforts to ensure that your writing is “all yours” and that you properly cite others’ words and ideas.
One scenario of why it can happen to anyone:
Many of us now compose directly on the computer and frequently have multiple documents opened at any given time. We “read” to find information to use in our writing. Frequently, we jump from online articles to our own document, copying and pasting material. At times, we’re writing papers with quick deadlines, and we might rush through this all-important step of first understanding the article content. Rather than fully “digesting texts,” we read for important information and key points to include in the paper. Our notes become lifted passages from texts rather than summarizing in our own words. We research and read for “context” rather than the “content”; that is, we read to finish our writing rather than fully understanding the topic or content.
What you can do:
To avoid unintentional plagiarism, stop long enough in your reading to think about what the author is saying. Put it in your own words. There’s an inherent danger in copying text and pasting into your own notes. And in doing so, writers can naively create a “fertile environment” for plagiarism to occur. And it happens not just in academia. Take a look at what happened to well-known authors, and the consequences can ruin a career. Or musicians and the long lawsuits that follow.
Remember, James Frey and the scandal after Oprah had selected his Million Little Pieces as one of her “reads”? Oprah felt betrayed and used. Her anger was palpable when she publically lambasted him in her program:
And recently, Neil Gorsuch was accused of plagiarizing parts of his book:
So, we’ve developed this resource to help students take proactive measures to be academically honest. Before we move into the nitty gritty, we have some fundamentals:
- First, create a “working bibliography” of your resources. Put a number or a letter next to each and use that notation next to your quotes & paraphrases. That way, the sources for all quotes/paraphrases are identified.
- Cite all direct quotes, paraphrases, statistics, and unique ideas. Take the extra time to put quotation marks around words that are not yours. And don’t forget to post the page number of all direct quotes.
- To review:
- direct quotes = citation
- paraphrases = citation
- statistics = citation
- unique concepts = citation
- when in doubt = citation
- If you’re not sure, you should seek writing support with your writing center or the VWC.
The Academic Conversation
For those who want to write original work, learning how to enter the academic conversation is fundamental. While the academy is a place for active debate, most of us read materials given to us as passive “voyeurs” of a text. Of course, this is saying something about the implicit/explicit power dynamic between the faculty member and the student. Do we read to highlight what we think the faculty member wants us to read? Or do we read to wrestle with ideas? Frankly, given the reality that most of us read multiple texts each week, we’re lucky if we “digest” even one text. The fact that most of us read – or submit a text— seldom questioning its content, style, or the intent of the author shows that we may be disempowered in the academic enterprise.
Many students don’t realize that writing forces a reader to “digest” the material and to summarize as well as validate assertions by referring to the experts. So, active reading is essential in bringing the reader into the discourse. Since there are deep and multiple connections between reading and writing, we all need to learn and use strategies of active, critical reading (See the VWC Resources: “Active Reading Strategies” and “Critical Reading Exercises”)
If we think about academic reading and writing as a conversation, students have to carry the researchers forward in the conversation, even those with opposing views. Writing a paper is entering the conversation in an attempt to inform the reader of your unique learning through summarizing, paraphrasing, and citing other researchers.
Ways to ensure Academic Authenticity:
Validating that your writing is authentically yours and accurately reflecting your understanding of the topic begins early in your writing process. Before writing, verify that you understand the assignment. Ask questions and request examples from the faculty member. Remember, what your instructors wants in an assignment is most important for your success. If you don’t understand, ask classmates and go to the writing center for additional support.
Take “real notes”: Don’t just lift full lines or passages from your reading. Be sure to write all notes in your own words, or put quotes around texts. If you’ve paraphrased, you still need to cite. So, put ( ) and the author, date, pg number.
Defining the goals of your literature review will guide both your reading and your note-taking. Peg Single Boyle, author of Demystifying Dissertation Writing (2009), offers a clear approach to “Citable Notetaking”:
- Pre-read your articles before taking notes
- Keep track of what’s summarized, paraphrased, or quoted.
- Choose consistent formats for your notes. For example: If more than one article set up a spreadsheet to identify authors, article theme and quotes and paraphrases. This will help with putting your outline together when you start to write (p 55-78).
The Virtual Writing Center has other resources available at the top of this page to help guide you to academic success.
Want to see how much you know or don’t know about plagiarism? Spend a productive hour watching the tutorials and then take the “Certification Test” at the Indiana University resource:
As a member of a discipline, you’re responsible to learn the style sheet of your field of practice (APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.). Use online resources and manuals relevant to your field. If you’re unclear, seek help and work one-one with Mentor/VWC. If you want professional help, go to the AU Writers’ Exchange (wex.antioch.edu). Also review this handy checklist for APA Style that was designed for writers to refer to prior to submitting their papers.
Writing support is designed to help students. With friendly student peer consultants, you may talk about your writing and get the support you need. You’re not alone.
Boyle, P.S. (2009). Demystifying dissertation writing. Stylus Pub: New York.
Bronwyn T. Williams (2008). Trust, betrayal, and authorship: Plagiarism and how we perceive students. Journal of Adolescent and and Adult Literacy 51:4, 350 – 354.
Abstract: Emotional responses to plagiarism are rarely addressed in professional literature that focuses on ethics and good teaching practices. Yet, the emotions that are unleashed by cases of plagiarism, or suspicions of plagiarism, influence how we perceive our students and how we approach teaching them. Such responses have been complicated by online plagiarism-detection services that emphasize surveillance and detection. My opposition to such plagiarism software services grows from the conviction that if we use them we are not only poisoning classroom relationships, but also we are missing important opportunities for teaching.
Howard, R., & Robillard, A. (2008). Pluralizing plagiarism : Identities, contexts, pedagogies. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Pluralizing Plagiarism offers multiple answers to this question — answers that insist on taking into account the rhetorical situations in which plagiarism occurs. While most scholarly publications on plagiarism mirror mass media’s attempts to reduce the issue to simple black-and-white statements, the contributors to Pluralizing Plagiarism recognize that it takes place not in universalized realms of good and bad, but in specific contexts in which students’ cultural backgrounds often play a role. Teachers concerned about plagiarism can best address the issue in the classroom — especially the first-year composition classroom — as part of writing pedagogy and not just as a matter for punishment and prohibition. . . “–Back cover.
Price, M. (2002). Beyond “Gotcha!”: Situating plagiarism in policy and pedagogy. College Composition and Communication, 54(1), 88-115
Abstract:Plagiarism is difficult, if not impossible, to define. In this paper, I argue for a context-sensitive understanding of plagiarism by analyzing a set of written institutional policies and suggesting ways that they might be revised. In closing, I offer examples of classroom practices to help teach a concept of plagiarism as situated in context.