July 2010 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Avoiding Unintentional Plagiarism

Amber Cook explains unintentional plagiarism
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist

A specific image comes to many of our minds when we think of the word plagiarism. A sinister and perhaps lazy student surfs the Internet and finds a well-written paper by another writer. Hoping to avoid the effort involved in writing an original work, and knowing that this other writer’s paper will likely earn a higher grade, the student downloads the paper. Looking around to make sure no one is watching, the student deletes the name of the original author, replaces it with his or her own, and submits the paper, intentionally deceiving the unsuspecting reader.

This scenario might occasionally occur, but the plagiarism committed by many writers looks quite different from this act of blatant cheating. In the Writing Center, for instance, the vast majority of plagiarized passages we see are unintentional. Some writers paraphrase poorly or intend to add citations after finishing the paper. (This practice, by the way, is a bad, bad idea. You may want to refine your APA format after you’ve finished the writing, but you should always put at least a note to yourself to indicate the need for a citation.) Other writers do include citations, but these attempts are inadequate for the type of citation being used. For instance, many writers will borrow wording directly from another source and then provide only a parenthetical citation for that source. This is better than nothing, but without quotation marks or block quotation format, this passage would still be considered an academic integrity violation. Check out our website for more information on directly quoting or paraphrasing a source.

Although the plagiarism in the cases mentioned here may be unintentional, it is still problematic. Walden’s plagiarism policy, like that of most academic institutions, involves disciplinary measures. Learning to cite properly and use sources judiciously is part of the challenge of becoming an academic writer. If your instructor or writing tutor points out plagiarism during a paper review, try not to be offended. There is a broad range of mistakes that fall under that term, which can include the unintentional plagiarism mentioned above. Your reviewer’s job is to call your attention to anything suspect, and your job is to learn quickly, making the avoidance of academic integrity violations your top priority.

If you’re ever feeling unsure about your citation format, you may want to send your paper through the Academic Skills Center’s Turnitin dropbox. Turnitin will help you identify any material that matches other documents in its database, and you can then adjust any citation format as needed. Once you’re in the habit of thorough and proper citation, you can still use the tool to double check your use of source information.


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