Academic Honesty & Plagiarism

What Academic Honesty is, why it matters, and how to build your own academic integrity

Types of Unintentional Plagiarism

Types of unintentional plagiarism

1. Using the annotated instructor’s edition of a course textbook is a form of plagiarism. With so many textbooks available for sale on the Internet through Amazon, Craig’s List, and so on, it is easy to come across an annotated instructor’s edition of a course textbook. The annotated instructor’s edition has the answers to most of the exercises in the text. The insights that appear in these editions are meant for the instructors only. If you buy an annotated edition of your textbook for any class, reading the sample answers before writing your own answers constitutes cheating and plagiarizing. If you get an instructor’s version of a textbook by accident, you should exchange it immediately for a student edition. If you are caught using an instructor’s edition, you will be subject to disciplinary action by the college.

2. Using words, phrases, visuals, or even ideas or concepts from a source read on the Internet without citing it is plagiarism. The bottom line is that if you didn’t have an idea that you used in your paper before you read other sources, then you need to cite the source(s) that gave you that idea—even if you phrase the idea in your own words in their paper. Some students claim that they had a specific idea before they read a source that just happened to have the same ideas. So they say, “Well, I already was thinking that way, or beginning to, before I read that article, so it is just a coincidence.” Be careful about this argument though. It is rare for people to have very similarly developed ideas. Instead of having to defend the fact that they just “coincidentally” came up with the same idea as that of a noted scholar, why not just cite that scholar and add credibility to their own claim? Writers should be careful, too, that the brilliant idea they put in their paper didn’t come from something they read a while back: If students learned it from somewhere (no matter how long ago), they need to research that original “somewhere’ and give credit where credit is due. The sole exception is when a fact is “common knowledge.” A common-knowledge fact is something that most people can be expected to know. For example, if you mention that George Washington was our first president and that his home was in Mt. Vernon, you wouldn’t have to cite a source (unless you didn’t know that information before you began your paper).

Rule of thumb: When in doubt, always cite the source.

3. By far, though, the most common form of “accidental” plagiarism is the result of poor paraphrasing skills. This type of “accidental” plagiarism occurs when you actually cite a source, but the amount of material you use from that source, or the overall writing style—i.e., use of words, phrases, and writing patterns—is too close to the original (without using quotation marks). Be careful about relying too much in a paper on someone else’s words or ideas. Basically, if you use too many of the same phrases or words from the original and do not use quotation marks, it is considered plagiarism even if you cite the source.

Content in this “Types of accidental plagiarism” section is reused with permission from Sims, Marcie. The Write Stuff: Thinking Through Essays. Upper Saddle River : Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.