Michael S. Ofsowitz
Associate Professor, Psychology

 

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PLAGIARISM

PSY 101 only


juicy stuff?



Plagiarism


Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty, which, according to the Monroe Community College Catalog and Student Handbook, can result "in the grade of 'F' for the course." And "further disciplinary action in case of repeated infractions, or in cases of complicity on a large scale... shall be at the discretion of the Vice President for Student Services and may result in probation, suspension, or expulsion from the College."

The following is the MCC Catalogue description of plagiarism:

"Plagiarism is defined as offering the work of someone else as one's own. The language or ideas thus taken from another may range from isolated formulas, sentences or paragraphs, speeches, or the writing of other students. Any student who fails to give credit for ideas or materials that are taken from another, verbatim or in paraphrase, is guilty of plagiarism. Any form of plagiarism is essentially an act of cheating."

For all of our school's fine print on this you might want to link the student service's web site.

Additionally, the Psychology Department has its own plagiarism policy


In other words, anytime somebody else's work is taken for use in one's own project, a citation or reference must be made to the original creator of the work, whether it is a copied string of words (usually three or more is considered the minimum, in which case quotation marks must be used), a paraphrased idea, information, or other types of human intellectual products.

There is nothing wrong with using another person's work in one's own project, as long as the original creator of the work is cited. In fact, there's nothing wrong with using a lot of other people's work in your paper - as long as it is all properly cited. (The trick is to organize it well into your piece, and not to quote verbatim much, which is a weakness of style.) If you don't cite the source, you are, in effect, pretending the words or thought or facts are your own, the products of your hard work, and this is cheating. One thing to be especially careful about: if you copy someone else's words, and give a citation but don't put the copied words inside quotation marks, you are still plagiarizing.

Sources for some of the common methods used for citing material include:

* The Chicago Manual of Style. Their brief citation guide is online. The reference desk in the library has the real thing.

* Diana Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual. (Available upon request from the MCC Bookstore for about $13. If you don't already own one of these books, at least buy this one. A style manual is as necessary for your work as is a dictionary. Get one and keep it handy.) There is also an online site from Bedford Press.

* Hodge's Harbrace College Handbook.

The University of California Berkeley library

And to get a little more into the issue...

Paul Smith's page on Assessing Authorship.

In the Hodge's Harbrace College Handbook,plagiarism is described as follows:

"Any failure to acknowledge borrowed material is a serious offense called plagiarism. If a borrowed idea is expressed in the student's phraseology, an acknowledgment of the source is sufficient. If it is in the phraseology of the source, it should be put in quotation marks and also acknowledged. Usually any conscious quotation (except well-known or proverbial passages) of three or four connected words or more should be placed in quotation marks."

The Handbook also gives advice on the use of quotations:

"Too many quotations in the library paper suggest a lack of mastery of the subject. And besides, the more a student quotes, the less practice he gets in composition. A quotation must be a very telling and important one before a student is justified in using it in his paper. Occasionally, however, a student will discover such a passage. When he does, he should take down the passage verbatim - that is, write every word, every capital letter, every mark of punctuation exactly as in the original [see note, below]. Then he should enclose the quoted passage in quotation marks. When a [person] quotes, he should quote accurately. When he is not quoting, he should use his own phraseology, getting entirely away from the original."

(Note: It is occasionally considered acceptable to alter a word, and to change punctuation to fit the grammatical structure of one's own sentence if the passage quoted is not a complete sentence, or otherwise incapable of standing on its own. However, to be safe, any alterations to the original should be shown within brackets, which is always acceptable.)

My advice - to avoid inadvertent copying of phraseology - is to not have the source you are using open while writing. Take sketchy notes from it, then close the original source and write from your sketchy notes. (If your notes themselves are too close in wording to the original, or contain exact wording of the original, then this method will not save you, and that is why I say, "sketchy notes.")

I sometimes go to great lengths to track down what appear to me as instances of cheating or plagiarism. I play this cat-and-mouse game well: I am quite often successful. Plagiarism is simply a bad thing to do. Remember, if you use quotation marks when copying wording, and show your source, or if you just show a source when presenting someone else's idea or data in your own words (really your own, and not a remix of the original), then you are safe. The trouble comes when you use someone else's work (yes, they did the work) without giving them the credit. Aside from outright cheating, the most common infractions come when a student doesn't even realize he's plagiarizing: thought it would be okay, thought he changed the words around enough, thought the citation alone (but no quotation marks) protects against accusations of plagiarizing, etc.

As a teacher, I can not safely determine when a student's acts of plagiarism were unintentional and when they were intentional. Unintentional shoplifting is still a crime, as is unintentional plagiarism, but I do have a bit of compassion. However, I have to be fair to all, and this sort of fairness often calls compassion into question.

(Students who are really interested in cheating, despite the warnings, should know that teachers like myself are aware of college paper dumping sites like "schoolsucks.com," and that we have sites of our own and special software that help detect plagiarism. And for those of you who are religious, a higher authority is always watching. Don't cheat.)


Some examples:

Let's say you want to write a paper about plagiarism and found this web page (yes, this one) useful, and you want to include some of the material from it in your paper.

One paragraph of your paper begins...

It is occasionally considered acceptable to alter a word, and to change punctuation to fit the grammatical structure of one's own sentence if the passage quoted is not a complete sentence, or otherwise incapable of standing on its own. However, to be safe, any alterations to the original should be shown within brackets, which is always acceptable.

If you left it in your paper like that, you are guilty of the very worst form of plagiarism. You took what I wrote word-for-word and pasted it into your paper without any citation. You pretended it was all yours.

What if you began...

According to Ofsowitz, it is occasionally considered acceptable to alter a word, and to change punctuation to fit the grammatical structure of one's own sentence if the passage quoted is not a complete sentence, or otherwise incapable of standing on its own. However, to be safe, any alterations to the original should be shown within brackets, which is always acceptable (Ofsowitz, 2002).

Well, sorry, but this is still plagiarism and you are guilty, guilty, guilty. The problem here is that although you properly showed a citation for where the information came from, you are claiming that the writing (the wording) is your own. You would be guilty of stealing my knack for writing, despite the citation. The citation only tells the reader where the information came from; it does not tell the reader that you copied the wording.

One way to avoid that form of plagiarism is to use quotation marks, for example...

According to Ofsowitz, "it is occasionally considered acceptable to alter a word, and to change punctuation to fit the grammatical structure of one's own sentence if the passage quoted is not a complete sentence, or otherwise incapable of standing on its own. However, to be safe, any alterations to the original should be shown within brackets, which is always acceptable" (Ofsowitz, 2002, ¶ 5).

Actually, for lengthy quoted pieces (in excess of 40 words) you should indent it from both margins and then not use the quotation marks; this procedure of indenting is, like quotation marks, a signal to the reader that the material is quoted. (You wouldn't make the quotation marks red like I did there - I did that only so they would stand out for you in this example.) Your use of quotation marks is telling the reader of your paper that you copied some wording from another source.

Now let's say you changed the wording some...

According to Ofsowitz, sometimes it's acceptable to change a word, or to alter punctuation so it fits your own sentence if the part quoted isn't a full sentence. To be safe, though, any changes to the original should be shown inside brackets, which is always allowed (Ofsowitz, 2002).

Naughty, naughty. The problem there is that the basic wording is from the original and you only changed it here and there to make it not be a perfect match. Any reader can see that you were copying from the original. It is still plagiarism, even though it cites the source.

So what's a desperate writer to do? Either quote exactly and use the quotation marks (along with a proper citation) or paraphrase by saying it in a completely different way (and then still showing a citation for the source of the information). For example, ...

According to Ofsowitz, writers can make minor changes to the wording or punctuation of quoted material to fit their own sentences or grammatical needs, but these changes should be shown using brackets (Ofsowitz, 2002).

That's a winner. It says what I said, but it said it in a very different way. It showed the source for the information as a citation. Nothing was quoted and nothing in that sentence needed to have been enclosed in quotation marks; it does not resemble the original in wording.

So remember, if you copy, then copy exactly and show the reader that you copied the wording by using quotation marks (or indentation) and a citation. If you just use the information but paraphrase the material, then don't use wording that is even close to the original, but remember to show a citation.


Michael S. Ofsowitz, 2011