How to avoid plagiarism?

Plagiarism is considered a serious offense and in some cases it may mean failing the course. You must therefore avoid plagiarism at all costs. The Pacific School of Religion at Berkeley has drawn up these very clear guidelines to help students avoid plagiarism:

One of the important markers of high academic standards is proper attribution (giving credit) for someone else’s ideas, thoughts, words, or methods of scholarship. Proper credit should be given in both oral and written contexts. Proper credit is:

  • When you use an actual sentence from a published article or unpublished essay, including print and digital material, you must put the sentence in quote marks and give a footnote or citation to indicate who said it. The citation should include full bibliographic information. (For further information about correct citation form, see Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations.)
  • When you paraphrase or summarize another person’s ideas, you must give a footnote or citation to indicate whose ideas they are and where you got them. (Or, in lecturing, make clear from whose ideas you are drawing.)
  • When you adopt a significant idea from someone else’s work, you must give a footnote or citation to indicate where you got the idea.
  • When you use a method developed by someone else, you must give a footnote or citation to indicate the source of the method.

When you fail to do this, it is considered plagiarism. Plagiarism can apply both to students and to faculty. Plagiarism is using someone else’s ideas, thoughts, words, or methods of scholarship as if they were your own and without giving proper credit to that person. Plagiarism is considered wrong because (1) it is ‘stealing’ another person’s ideas, methods, etc., and (2) it is ‘lying’ — representing something as your own when it is not yours.

  • Plagiarism includes failing to give citations in the examples above.
  • Plagiarism also includes copying another student’s exam or part of an exam or essay.

It is not plagiarism when you indicate clearly that you are summarizing someone else’s views in order to provide the context for an assessment or critique of those views, or to incorporate them into a larger project. In this case, you must indicate clearly that you are giving the views of someone else — e.g. by starting with “so-and-so argues that…” It is also not plagiarism to use a well-established idea that has been developed in multiple sources — e.g. to claim that God can be called “woman” as well as man is now sufficiently well established that it needs no attribution. Some phrases — e.g. “the personal is political” — are in such wide usage that sometimes we do not know where they originated; in such cases, it is acceptable to use them without attribution. However, the best scholarship will make every effort to give attribution where possible (e.g. to note that this phrase came from Robin Morgan).