Plagiarism and how to avoid it: guide for all students in Dr. Murphy's classes.


Plagiarism is, basically, cheating. You are being graded on your ability to write good English, to develop your own ideas and theories. When you present a piece of writing to me with your name at the top, the expectation is that you will receive credit because everything in there is your work, unless it is clearly indicated that you are relying on another source. If plagiarism passes unnoticed, a student will receive a higher grade than he or she deserves, in all probability, a higher grade than students who have, in fact, worked much harder and presented their work more honestly. This is why I do not like to let plagiarism pass undetected, and, when I do detect it, I punish it strictly.

A printed version of these notes is available from the bookstore at FSU-Panama. This version has been re-edited slightly for web-publication.

I am aware that there exist web-sites such as, to name but one of many, that will supply students with papers. When I am suspicious that a paper may come, in whole or in part, from such a site, I will spend hours, if necessary, checking out whether my suspicions are true. I have even been known to pay money for papers that are available for purchase on the web, to confirm my suspicions that the paper came from such a source (my suspicions were correct, and the student was punished). This takes up a lot of my time, which could be better spent helping students who are prepared to work to write better papers. Because of the time and trouble involved, I am not prepared to accept any excuses in cases where I find plagiarism. You will receive a mark of 0 for that piece of work, and it will be counted towards your final grade. If you are stupid enough to repeat the offence, you will fail the whole course automatically, and I will send a letter to Dr. Langoni explaining the reasons.

However, many students have explained to me that they find it hard to understand the difference between legitimate use of sources, which is encouraged, and plagiarism, which is strictly punished. To make sure that there are no mistakes, I have prepared this handout. If I return a paper to you graded at 0, and comment that it is plagiarized, and you disagree, or do not understand, come to me and I will explain to you exactly where your paper goes wrong, using this web-site.

Reasons for citing sources:

Suppose you are writing a paper on Descartes. If you are at all conscientious, you will actually go to the trouble of reading some of Descartes' writings. Probably you will also read some encyclopaedia articles, that give you some biographical information, and explain Descartes' place in the history of thought, and probably some commentaries that help you understand Descartes (many students find the commentaries provided by sparknotes to be helpful). In doing so, you are making use of other people's work, which is fine: we are engaged in a co-operative enterprise, but remember that your fellow workers deserve thanks, and the usual way to give thanks is by citing the work in question.

A citation should always appear immediately by the piece of information that is being cited, so that it is apparent straight away exactly what has been taken from the source. It is not sufficient to mention sources in a bibliography at the end of the paper. The best way of citing is by way of a footnote. If you are using Microsoft Word, footnotes are easy to insert (ask the office assistant for help). The result will look like this1, and then you can write in information that will appear at the bottom of the page. (Because this is a web-document, you must scroll down to the end to read all the notes). Of course, you may be using some other word processing program. If you are writing your paper on Wordperfect or Works, and perhaps you intend to print it in the university, where Microsoft Word is used. If so, you will probably want to save the document in rich text format, and footnotes may get lost in the process. So, an alternative to citing by means of a footnote is to cite in parentheses (citation appears like this), and that way, the information will not be lost.

In my youth, I wrote and printed papers on a Bondwell 8 computer, using software so outdated that I could not use a footnote facility. So, I wrote footnotes in by hand on the final draft of the paper - do that if necessary, but make sure the citations appear. Remember, it is better to hand your paper in late, and be penalised for being late, than to hand in a paper with no citations, and be penalised for plagiarism.

Ideally, the citation should include the title of the book, the author's name, the date and place of publication, and the page number, like this:
James Thrower, Religion the Classical Theories, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1999, p. 35
For websites, try to include the author's name and the html.
Notice that the title of a book is usually in italics.
Of course, you don't need to repeat the publication information. If you have two successive footnotes that refer to the same book, you can simply put down
(Latin ibidem: the same)
or, suppose that you refer to Thrower's book, then have several references to a book by Eliade. Then you want to refer to Thrower's book again. You can't put ibid., because that would mean you were referring to Eliade's book. So you would write
Thrower, op. cit., p. 44 (Latin for "work cited").
Perhaps you don't have all of this information: you remember reading something in Sophie's World, but you don't remember the page number, and you don't have a copy with you. Or perhaps you remember something from a book you read in high school, but you're not sure of the name. In that case, give whatever information you can, just enough to demonstrate that this comes from some source. This will at least serve the purpose of expressing gratitude, and will save you from accusations of plagiarism, but it is not ideal, the full details of authorship and publication are better.
Why give all of this information? Citations do not serve just as a way of expressing gratitude to a source you found helpful, they also enable the reader to check the source out, to see if it really corresponds to what you say.

Perhaps you are offering an interpretation of Descartes that I think is incorrect. I am about to give you a low grade, because I think you have misunderstood Descartes, but then I notice that you cite a passage of Descartes to support your interpretation, a passage that I have overlooked. I realize that your interpretation makes sense in the light of that passage. In that case, so far from marking you down, I will mark you up, because you have found an interesting approach to Descartes. But I can only give you the credit you deserve if there is a citation to back up your interpretation (and, of course, if the passage you have cited really does support what you say).

Sometimes, it may be that you will misunderstand what you read, and I may need to point this out. Of course, I can only find that out if I have the chance to read what you have read. On one occasion, a student handed me a rough draft of a paper in which she completely misinterpreted some important points of metaphysics. She cited the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a source. This is one of the best sources of information about philosophy on the internet, but it is sometimes hard to understand. By the time she arrived to discuss her paper, I had read the article that she used as a source, and was able to save a lot of time by explaining exactly where she had gone wrong in her understanding. The big advantage of studying at a university is that you have the chance to engage in this kind of conversation, and I always try to make useful comments on papers if I have time, so that at least you can understand your mistakes. But this is only possible if I can locate the very same source that you have used, and that is the point of a citation, to enable the reader to get straight to the exact source that you have used. Incidentally, one of the reasons I hate plagiarism is because by the time I have tracked down cases of plagiarism, I have very little time left over to comment properly on papers that contain correct citations.

Direct quotations and paraphrases:

When you use a source, you can either quote it directly, using the very same words, or you can paraphrase, stating what the source states, but expressing it your own way.

For direct quotations, you should either use speech marks, or clearly indent the paragraph and change the format. Quotations marks are usually used for short quotations, at most a sentence long, and appear in you text like this.

Nietzsche describes those who organise and build states as "violence artists", and writes of them possessing an "artist's cruelty".2

Or you could include a longer quotation from Nietzsche, like this:

...the active force that is at work on a grander scale in those violence-artists and organizers and that builds states, is basically the same force that here, inwardly, on a smaller, pettier scale, in a backwards direction, in the "labyrinth of the beasts" to use Goethe's words - creates for itself the bad conscience and builds for itself negative ideals: namely that instinct for freedom (speaking in my language: the will to power). (Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. M. Clarke and A. Swensen, Hackett, Indianapolis 1998, p. 59)

The format makes it immediately clear that this is a direct quotation: it is indented, and is justified. The format must be clearly different from the rest of the paper - you could also try using a different font.  Incidentally, notice that Nietzsche uses speech marks when he quotes from Goethe. Whether you use speech marks or an indented paragraph, make sure that it is absolutely clear where you words start and finish, and where we have the words of your source.

You should avoid having too many direct quotations. It is easy, too easy perhaps, to cut and paste passages from sources on the web, without understanding what they mean, or giving any thought as to whether they are right or wrong. Nor will you be getting credit for your grammar in passages that are quoted. Direct quotations should be used when you want to draw attention to some particular way of phrasing things that an author uses. For example, the following paragraph:

There is a tendency perhaps to associate being an artist with being passive, to imagine the artist as a mere observer of events, who does not interfere. But Nietzsche describes those who organise and build states as "violence-artists", and writes of them possessing an "artist's cruelty".3 Art is here described in terms that are active, indeed, aggressive.

Here, the direct quotation is necessary, because the writer is demonstrating a certain tendency within Nietzsche's work. The whole paragraph quotation above could be the introduction to an extended discussion of the meaning of Nietzsche's phrase "will-to-power", in which the writer spent some time explaining what point he or she thinks Nietzsche is making.

So, direct quotations are sometimes necessary, but you shouldn't have too many. Frequently, you will want to paraphrase, but give a source. Paraphrasing involves rewriting a passage in your own words: this is a skill you must acquire. I suggest that you do not start out with the passage to be paraphrased, and change the odd word here or there. The result will almost certainly come close to being a word for word repeat of the original passage, and that would constitute plagiarism. I suggest the following: take the passage that you want to paraphrase, summarise it in very brief note form, then take the notes, and transform them into prose. Only when you have done this, turn back to the original passage. Make sure that you have not introduced any errors, but have not accidentally retained the same phrasing. Of course, if the original contains a particularly memorable phrase, perhaps something funny, retain it within your paraphrase, but within direct quotation marks. Even when you paraphrase, you should remember to include a citation!
When you are doing reading for a paper, keep track of what sources you read, and don't confuse notes you make yourself with what's in your sources: label all documents clearly. Students sometimes claim "Oh, I made a mistake. I did read that book/web-site, but I didn't realize/forgot that this paragraph was from the book/web-site, I thought it was something I wrote myself. Oh, I didn't mean to hand in this version of the paper, I meant to add footnotes..." Don't make these mistakes: you will be graded according to the paper you hand in as a final draft, and if I find that it breaks the rules, then it will receive 0.

Example of paraphrase:

Suppose that I am writing a paper comparing African and Japanese religion. I decide to use the following passage, which  is taken from p.161 of Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990:

The indigenous religious tradition of Japan is Shinto, the 'Way of the Gods', which is based on worship of a range of divine beings, each of them known as a kami. Some are seen as personalized creative forces, many as impersonal forces present in notable natural objects and animals, and some as extraordinary humans: anything awe-inspiring or mysterious can be seen as a kami. The tradition did not have a strong ethical dimension, but it had a developed appreciation of natural beauty, and a concern for ritual purity.

My brief notes, for my use only, might read as follows:

Shinto: 'Way of Gods' Japanese indigenous. Range of divine beings, kami=divine being, many types, animal, human, forces, mysterious/awe inspiring. Not strongly ethical, but concern for beauty and purity.

Then, I would paraphrase as follows:

According to Harvey, Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, involves worship of various entities, humans, animals or impersonal forces, that are awe-inspiring or mysterious. The Japanese word for such an entity is a kami. He states that Shinto is concerned more with beauty and ritual purity than with questions of ethics.4

Notice that as well as giving a footnote, I mention Harvey by name at the start, and in the final sentence, I state "He states": this is to remind the reader that these are Harvey's ideas, not mine. Perhaps I don't agree with Harvey - maybe I think that Shinto has a very strong ethical tradition, and he ignores it. As it happens, I know very little about Shinto, and am prepared to defer to Harvey's opinion: after all, he is writing an introductory text-book for Cambridge University Press: University Presses invariably have editors and referees to check the accuracy of such information. They can make mistakes, but its not likely. So, I might make it clear that I trust Harvey. If I am going on to compare Shinto with an African religion such as Santeria, the next paragraph might begin like this:

If Harvey's account of Shinto is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, then clearly  there are some striking similarities between Santeria  and Shinto, but one important difference. The Orissa of Santeria would appear to be similar in their status to the kami of Shinto, but one could not say that Santeria lacks an ethical dimension.

Here, I make it clear that I am relying on Harvey's expertise, and using his summary of Shinto as the starting point for my comparison between Shinto and Santeria.5 If a paper has proper citations, the line between the reader and the reader's sources is clearly visible. Then it is possible to ask questions about how well the sources have been used: is the writer over-reliant on a single source, does the writer understand the sources, is the writer uncritical about sources? These are questions that I need to ask in order to grade a paper. Without proper citations, I cannot answer these questions, and so cannot grade the paper properly.
Do not expect credit just for citing correctly: some students submit papers that are made up almost entirely of quotations from other sources, all correctly cited. They do not receive 0, but they do receive a failing grade: writing a paper is not a matter of cutting and pasting. If you cite sources properly, you should be able to see as you write how much is really yours, and you should consider the questions that I am going to ask about your use of sources.
More advice on paraphrasing is now available.

Be cautious:

It is not usual to give citations for common knowledge, e.g.  if you state that France is country of which  the capital is Paris, or that Manchester United are the world's greatest football club. These are universally acknowledged facts. But you must be very careful about where to draw the line between common knowledge and knowledge known only to experts. It is much better to make the mistake of citing when it is not necessary than to make the mistake of not citing when you should. You should find that, as you advance in your studies, your professors say to you "You didn't need to cite that", rather than saying "You should have cited a source here". Failing to give a source when you should causes trouble, giving a source when you didn't need to does not cause trouble.
Also, you are just beginning your studies (or at least, this handout is written for students who are just beginning at university level), on many matters you are going to be reliant on expert opinion, and your papers will reflect that. I once had a student who began a paper by stating that St. Anselm was undoubtedly the greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages. When I asked her what other philosophers of the Middle Ages she had read, she said she hadn't read any.  Text books and encyclopaedias exist to help out people in that situation, and should be used to do that. But always remember, you should be responding to your sources, and adding your own contribution, however humble.

So remember ...

* Direct quotations clearly separated from the rest of text, by paragraph indentations or quotation marks
* Paraphrases clearly indicated as such, and phrasing distinct from original source
* Citations, in parentheses or footnotes given at the point where the source is used: bibliography at the end is  not sufficient
* If in doubt, cite your source

Article on Plagiarism from The Independent

1 This is a footnote.
2 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. M. Clarke and A. Swensen, Hackett, Indianapolis 1998, p. 59
3 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. M. Clarke and A. Swensen, Hackett, Indianapolis 1998, p. 59
4 Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, p.161
5 Incidentally, if I were grading this paper, I would wonder why a book about Buddhism is being used as the main source of information about Shinto: if the lack of emphasis on ethics in Shinto is important, shouldn't some works about Shinto be quoted? But that is not a matter of plagiarism, it's a matter of writing a good paper.

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