Somebody Already Said That

plagiarismWe are increasingly seeing academic papers that have plagiarized sections. We usually recognize them because of our many years of experience with editing papers. A little “ping” goes off in our brains and then we google a sentence from the suspect paragraph and, often as not, there it is, on the Internet.

It’s clear to us that many of the students who plagiarize do not intend to do so. It’s also clear that teachers often fail to teach students exactly what plagiarism is. Here are the definitions we use: 1) it’s plagiarism if three words or more in a row are the same as in the source; and 2) it’s plagiarism if 50% or more of the content comes straight from the source.

Many people are under the illusion that if they change a word or two, they have paraphrased the passage. That is insufficient. It really has to be said differently, using largely different words. If a person can’t do that, that’s a pretty good sign that perhaps the individual doesn’t actually understand the material and needs to do more research and/or thinking about it.

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