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Service Highlights: Library Guides

Library Guide 19: How to Avoid Plagiarism

Introduction   Some Tips for Students   For Professors: A Few Advices on How to Design Assignments
What is Plagiarism?   How to Cite Sources   What is Turnitin.com?
Why Should You Be Concerned?   Exercise and Practice   A few useful books toward an understanding of plagiarism
  Local Resources Available On Campus    


When does research end and when does creative thinking start? This is the dilemma most scholars have to face at one time or another; let's face it, you are scholars whether you are an undergraduate freshman or a faculty member.

A definition of plagiarism can not be complete without exploring what scholarship involves. In a nutshell, scholarship entails researching, understanding, and building upon the work of others. By extension and by necessity, it also requires that proper credit be given for any “borrowed” or "used" material; unless the material you are working on is completely original, you have to demonstrate the historicity and the basis of the research you initiated.

Plagiarism, which is a form of cheating has been around since the first caveperson's stick figures were copied endlessly in the next grotto. However, and since the advent of the Internet and more specifically the World Wide Web, it has become increasingly easy to "copy & paste" from a page to a word processor document. The practice of plagiarism proliferated exponentially in the last 10 to 15 years. In other words, why do people plagiarize? Because it is easy to do, and it is also easy to get away with it: most professors think plagiarizing is easy to spot but hard to prove.

What is Plagiarism?

What is the difference between "academic dishonesty", cheating, and plagiarism? They are related in term of hierarchical significance: both cheating and plagiarism fall under the "academic dishonesty" (or "academic fraud") heading. The latter, which also involves "fabrication", encompasses all activities construed as not playing by the Academic Rules, giving one an unfair advantage. Some scholars define plagiarism as a sub-category of cheating, some as the same level and seriousness as cheating, thus being a direct subset of Academic Dishonesty.

Cheating involves acquiring unauthorized help during an exam (looking over someone else's shoulder during a class test, or writing tests answers on one's arm...)

Plagiarism is usually defined as using someone else's words or work as your own, without any kind of acknowledgement or attribution. The original work may come from a book or a journal article, but more and more frequently from web or internet sources such as databases or, in certain cases, "paper mills". The offender may use the original as is, or may offer a close imitation of the text being copied (paraphrasing, see below). Stated in another fashion, it is akin to record someone else's music, then market it as your own.

There are different kinds of "plagiarism." Haxham (his site is mentioned at the bottom of this page) tentatively defines "Plagiarism" and "Academic Plagiarism" as such:

Plagiarism is the deliberate attempt to deceive the reader through the appropriation and representation as one's own the work and words of others. Academic plagiarism occurs when a writer repeatedly uses more than four words from a printed source without the use of quotation marks and a precise reference to the original source in a work presented as the author's own research and scholarship.

We may also propose the following:

1. Deliberate plagiarism: using someone's words or ideas without clearly acknowledging the source of that information. 

2. Self-plagiarism:  is when you take a term paper or essay that was written for one class and submit substantial parts or the whole paper for credit in a another class, without informing the instructor.

3. Accidental Plagiarism: occurs, although you don't intend to plagiarize, when you fail to cite your sources completely and correctly.

Why should you be concerned?

·        By plagiarizing, you’re cheating yourself:  you don’t learn to write out your own thoughts in your own words and you don’t get specific feedback from a  professor that is geared to your individual needs and skills.
·        Plagiarism is dishonest because it misrepresents the work of others as your own.
·          Student dishonesty hurts LIU’s academic standing and reputation, thereby lessening the value and integrity of your diploma and degree.
·        Plagiarism can result in suspension or dismissal from the university, your degree being revoked, and/or fines or damages for violating the copyright law.

Some Tips for Students

·        Use your own words and ideas
·        Use quotation marks and cite the source if you repeat another’s exact words
·        Cite if you adapt a chart or paraphrase a sentence (paraphrasing is when you state someone else’s ideas in your own words)
·        Avoid using others’ work with minor changes:
                Using synonyms (e.g.:  using “less” for “fewer”)
                Reversing the order of a sentence
·        You don't have to cite "common knowledge," but it must be commonly known
            Common knowledge:  Abraham Lincoln was the U.S. President during the Civil War.
Not common knowledge:  There were 51,000 casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg.

     Another Example:
  Common knowledge:  Joseph Stalin was born in Georgia.
  Not common knowledge, or controversial: Stalin was poisoned*.
             *Jonathan Brent, Vladimir Naumov. Stalin's Last Crime : The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953.    HarperCollins, 2003

·        >When in doubt, cite!

How to Cite Sources

It's all very nice, but how does one cite? What is a citing style? Should I use Chicago, MLA or APA? What is more appropriate and, to the point, what does my professor want me to use? There are a  number of ways to learn about writing styles, citing sources, etc.

  1. The books listed here are to the point, easy to consult and, usually, readily available. At the Reference Desk (3rd floor), we have the following (with the call number):

Books with an overview of most styles:

A Writer's Reference, by Diana Hacker PE1408 .H2778 2003

Writing research papers : a complete guide by Lester, James D., 1935- Glenview, Ill. : Scott, Foresman, c2005 (11th edition). LB2369 .L4 2005

Writing research papers : a student guide for use with opposing viewpoints by Harnack, Andrew, 1937- San Diego, CA : Greenhaven Press, c1998. LB2369 .H32 1998

       Books about specific styles:

American Medical Association Manual of Style  R119.A533

The Chicago Manual of Style Z253 U69 2003

MLA Style Manual  PN147.A28 1985

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association  BF76.7.P83

Kate L. Turabian's style manual has been around for many years. Her Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is recommended LB2369 T8 1996

  1. There is a number of excellent "bibliographic" software which allow you to create a bibliography in the style of your choice. LIU subscribes to RefWorks. It is free if you are an LIU student.

  2. Our campus in Brookville offers an excellent and easy-to-use style page. The page is maintained by the C.W. Post library and is a guide to the various styles.

  3. To state the obvious, you might ask any librarian here on campus to help you. Check our faculty and staff page for phone numbers and email addresses. Also, check our Library Instruction page for more information about

    1. Information Literacy

    2. Student Tutorials (fill a form to request a tutorial with an Instruction Librarian

Exercise and Practice

You will find many web pages dealing with plagiarism. However, we recommend the following sites which provide examples and exercises for free:

  • The Ethical Researcher puts plagiarism into context and provides a wealth of information.

  • In her How Not to Plagiarize, Marget Procter provides a few good examples on the practice.

  • Cornell University offers some definitions and a great opportunity to test your knowledge of APA, MLA and Chicago.

  • The School of Education of Indiana University in Bloomington built a very good site in that regard. Click on their "Examples". Especially good for those of us who wonder what "paraphrasing" really means. Their Writing Tutorial Services posted excellent examples on how to avoid plagiarism, and so on and so forth..

  • Diana Hacker's book A Writer's Reference (listed above) is a classic in its own rights. Go to her web site (the first time, click on "Writing Exercises", create an account or click on Cancel [trust me], then the "Research Exercises" button on the left; sorry, no shortcut). You may choose plagiarism exercises in APA, MLA or Chicago.

  • Purdue University's OWL (Online Writing Lab) offers free tutorials as well. Click on the right-hand site to access APA and MLA style guides.

  • Fairfield University posted a Plagiarism Avoidance Tutorial equipped with a Plagiarism Court and a great Flash presentation of what is plagiarism. Do yourself a favor and visit the site.

  • Turnitin.com posts the Plagiarism.org page complete with statistics, handouts, definitions, etc. Worth a look.

  • Another site is from the University of Calgary. It is not an exercise site but offers a very good overview of the topic.

  • Sharon Stoerger compiled a wealth of information and websites on plagiarism, including "suspicious" papers intended as an exercise for instructors.

  • See Professor Schweizer's page below.

Local Resources Available On Campus

The Writing Center is devoted to assist students into writing in general; tutors and other resources are available. Their office is on the 2nd floor of the Humanities Building.

Writing Across the Curriculum offers workshops and assistance to students regarding styles, etc.

Professor Bernard Schweizer designed an excellent plagiarism page on the English Department site; Professor Schweizer's premise is to make you plagiarize a text in order for you to understand the concept; the next exercise is how to write and attribute appropriately.

For Professors: A Few Advices on How to Design Assignments

You want your students to familiarize themselves with the existing literature and state of research within a given discipline; you want them to report on it and build an original body of work based upon the research. And this is partially where the confusion arises: the rookie researcher is confused as to when does reviewing literature end and when does original and critical thinking start. You want them to report but not plagiarize the surveyed literature. A few faculty members found ways around the situation; one of the strategies is called "Reality-Based" assignments.

For instance: an assignment on Medicare within the state of New York. What does the literature say about this (focus on an age group, or ethnicity, etc). Once the student reviews and reports upon the literature, then assign the student a case study of a Health Center in Brooklyn, for example, and ask him/her to conduct interviews or a survey or compile statistics upon the Center of their choice.

A very good web site about this has been set up by the Cy-Fair College.

What is Turnitin.com?

The Internet and the web in particular made it extremely easy for people to "copy & paste", hence the surge in plagiarism in the last 15 years. The birth of so-called online paper mills only aggravated the situation.

As it became obvious to search the web in order to "spot" plagiarism, a few entrepreneurs took upon themselves to offer a new kind of service: they check a submitted assignment against the web, already submitted papers and selected databases. The software then analyzes the "matches" and produces an "originality report" listing all passages from the submitted paper similar to web or databases documents.

Turnitin.com is probably the most used and successful example of this kind of software. Long Island University subscribes to Turnitin's services.

Faculty members who want to use Turnitin, or who have questions about the service should inquire of Professor Paul Tremblay at the Library (718 246-6382 or paul.tremblay@liu.edu). Please identify yourself as an LIU faculty member with an LIU email account. Upon request, an account ID will be provided.

Turnitin.com is not the only software of its kind on the market, but it is certainly the most famous. Sharon Stoerger posted a list of "anti-plagiarism" tools on her site.

A Few Useful Books toward an understanding of plagiarism

Academic dishonesty: an educator's guide, by Whitley, Bernard E. Mahwah, NJ : L. Erlbaum, 2002. LB3609 .W45 2002

The Plagiarism Plague : a Resource guide and CD-Rom Tutorial for Educators and Librarians, edited by Vibiana Bowman. NY : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2004 PN167.P527 2004 (Available at the Post Campus; you may perform an interlibrary loan request).

Scandals & Scoundrels: Seven Cases that Shook the Academy, by Ron Robin, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005
PN167 .R63 2004
           (Also available through ebrary as an electronic book: click here.)

Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era: A Wake-Up Call, by Ann Lathrop and Kathleen Foss, Englewood, Libraries Unlimited, 2000. LB3609 .L28 2000

Created by V. Stepchyshyn 6/03. Revised by P. Salber 3/2006
Revised by P. Tremblay 10/2007. Last updated 7/10.
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