Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism

Most students understand that copying an entire sentence, paragraph, or page without acknowledging the proper source constitutes plagiarism. Some students, however, inadvertently plagiarize because they do not understand that they must cite sources even when they borrow short phrases. Others plagiarize accidentally because they are unaware that sources for borrowed ideas must be cited. Using a few words exactly as they appear in a source is called quoting. Using someone else's ideas and putting them into your own words is called paraphrasing. In both cases, you must acknowledge the source of the information.

Two hypothetical cases of plagiarism are given below. The first involves quoting; the second involves paraphrasing.

Example of Plagiarism Involving Quoted Material

SOURCE
Next to knowing how to write about people, you should know how to write about a place. People and places are the twin pillars on which most nonfiction is built. Every human event happens somewhere, and the reader wants to know what that "somewhere" was like. (William Zinsser, On Writing Well [1976; New York: Harper and Row, 1985] 96)

PLAGIARISM
Place is important in everyone's life. Every human event happens somewhere, so knowing how to write effectively about place is an essential storytelling skill.

In this example, the phrase "Every human event happens somewhere" has been copied word for word. Although it is a relatively short phrase, proper credit must be given to the author. Below are two examples of how the passage might be revised to avoid plagiarizing.

CORRECT
Place is important in everyone's life. As William Zinsser writes in On Writing Well, "Every human event happens somewhere" (96). Obviously, knowing how to write effectively about place is an essential storytelling skill.

or

Place is important in everyone's life. Knowing how to write effectively about place is an essential storytelling skill because "every human event happens somewhere" (Zinsser 96).

Notice in the examples given above that the borrowed phrase is placed in quotation marks. This is always the case, even if you are only borrowing a couple of words. Also notice that the page number is given immediately after the sentence in which the phrase appears.


Example of Plagiarism Involving Paraphrased Material

In the following example, ideas have been borrowed, not words. Nonetheless, when you use someone else's profound thoughts in your writing, you must acknowledge the author who expressed those thoughts.

SOURCE
Surprisingly often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by simply getting rid of it. Unfortunately, this solution is usually the last one that occurs to the writer trying to disentangle himself. (William Zinsser, On Writing Well [1976; New York: Harper and Row, 1985] 123)

PLAGIARISM
When revising a draft, completely omitting words or phrases from a sentence can often be the quickest way to solve a problem. Unfortunately, many writers first look for every other possible solution.

Although the wording has been changed in the example above, the passage would still constitute plagiarism because the basic idea is the same and credit has not been given to the author.

CORRECT
When revising a draft, completely omitting words or phrases from a sentence can often be the quickest way to solve a problem. Unfortunately, many writers first look for every other possible solution (Zinsser 123).

or

As William Zinsser points out in On Writing Well, completely omitting certain words or phrases from a sentence can often be the quickest way to solve a problem, but many writers first look for every other possible solution (123).