The Writing Center

Common Misunderstandings about Plagiarism

In order to help you avoid plagiarism, this handout covers common mistaken beliefs about how you can incorporate sources into a text.  In order to discover students’ beliefs about plagiarizing, I interviewed TA’s in the Writing Center, CSU faculty members, and used my own teaching experiences.

Switching One Word Is Still Plagiarizing

Many students believe that if they switch one word, that they have not plagiarized—but they have.  The word order, or the syntax, or the way that the author wrote the information is still the possession of the author, and changing one word doesn’t respect that ownership.  It would be as if someone changed the license plate and drove off in a car that he or she took:  the car belongs to someone else and only 1 thing was changed.

Putting Information in Your Own Words Still Needs a Citation

Some students think that if they reword a passage, that they no longer need to cite it.  This is what is called paraphrasing—an important college skill that lets the writer’s voice shape the text instead of too much direct quoting.  Paraphrasing requires a citation.  It is still someone else’s work.

Cutting and Pasting Require Direct Quotes

One student who had little training in research thought she could cut and paste various portions of a research paper without citing or quoting.  She thought because her material was factual, that it did not need citations.  If material repeats throughout many different sources, then it is general information and does not need to be cited.  Direct cutting and pasting, however, is stealing unless you give credit to the source. 

Little Confidence in Yourself Can Spell an "F" in the Course

If you are taking others’ thoughts because you do not feel confident enough to write out the meaning yourself, then you either need more time to digest this material or a visit to your professor’s office to have him or her explain concepts to you.  Make an appointment in the Writing Center to review the material.

Non-Native Speakers:  Memorization as Learning Can Lead to Plagiarism

If you are from a country like China or India that fosters memorization as learning, plagiarism can seem not wrong at all—but it is—you need to reword the material.

Return to WAC index