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We often assume that all people who plagiarize are deliberately dishonest. In fact intentionally planned plagiarism is fairly rare. Much of plagiarism is simply due to carelessness, or to not understanding what plagiarism means. The following chart, taken from a web site at Purdue University, represents plagiarism as a spectrum.
  Continuum of actions that might be seen as plagiarism

Chart from:  Avoiding Plagiarism. 2002. Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). 14 August 2002 <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_plagiar.htm>. [Note: chart from old version of site.]

Since most plagiarism is unintentional, the best way to avoid plagiarism is to develop good habits of scholarship and writing, and to be familiar with the concepts related to plagiarism. Some of the necessary habits of scholarship are simple common sense. When writing a paper:
  • give yourself enough time to do a good job. Students who procrastinate are more likely to plagiarize because rushing makes them sloppy. (Being out of time is also the primary incentive for deliberate dishonesty.)
  • revise your paper. Significant re-writing can eliminate plagiarized passages.
  • proofread for errors. Proofreading can help you find missing citations and quotation marks, as well as other errors.

Using other people’s ideas is a recognized and important part of being a good scholar. It becomes plagiarism only if credit is not given appropriately to the original source. The very same uses of other people’s material that might be considered plagiarism if presented in one way are not considered plagiarism if they are presented correctly.


Next Page

Avoiding Plagiarism: Overview and Contradictions. 18 September 2007. Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). 5 February 2008 <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/01/>.

Citations in the How to Avoid Plagiarism section use MLA style.

Last updated 10/22/2008 by Sue Thompson, Toni Olivas
Cal State San Marcos Library