Assess your paper, part 5
Is your paper free of plagiarism?

While taking intellectual risks is admirable, a risk to avoid is plagiarism or academic dishonesty. Remember that "I didn't know" is no excuse. Avoid plagiarism by taking careful notes and being certain you understand what it is. Plagiarism is often--and rightly--explained as being a form of theft. The Harvard University Writing program's article "Why Does it Matter if you Plagiarize?" takes this issue further.

Be sure also to read Barnet's discussion of the use of quotations and avoiding plagiarism on pages 232 - 334 of the 11th edition of A Short Guide to Writing About Art

Plagiarism includes:

1) Submitting all or part of a paper written by someone else.

2) Copying sentences and or phrases from a source without putting them in quotation marks, and without using a footnote to identify the source. The rule of thumb is: More than three consecutive words, not counting short words such as "a," "the," "but," "in," "an," or "and" need either quotation marks and a footnote or acknowledgement of the author in the text of your paper.

Generally speaking, you may use three--possibly four--consecutive words (excluding such words as "the," "and," "if," and "in") without quotation marks or footnote. For example, "Italian Renaissance Art" and "Italian Renissance painting and sculpture" are common phrases and it's hard to find a graceful alternatives.

If, however, you find an unusually good or clever phrase that you'd like to re-use in your paper, then you must acknowledge the author, usually with a footnote. See When and How to use a Quotation and Barnet's discussion of the use of quotations and avoiding plagiarism on pages 232 - 334 of the 11th edition of A Short Guide to Writing About Art

BEWARE OF THE TOO-CLOSE PARAPHRASE! Some students get into trouble by quoting three or four words without quotation marks, putting in a bridge of a few of their own words, and then a another short quoted phrase without quotation marks, another bridge of their own words, etc. This is a form of plagiarism because it is editing a paragraph by someone else, retaining the structure and much of the text--yet presenting it as their own work.

3) False documentation: intentionally citing in a footnote or bibliography a source that you did not in fact consult--or is not the source of a quotation--is a form of plagiarism or academic dishonesty. This includes using an image of a work of art (a secondary source) while claiming to have examined the art work in person (a primary source).

On the surface, false documentation might seem like a clever game: produce the required footnotes without the necessary work--and sit back and laugh. But false documentation is a far worse offense than a too close paraphrase because the writer clearly intends to deceive. A common form of false documentation is to plagiarize from one source and footnote to another that sounds more scholarly.

For those who try very hard to do good and honest work: We all make mistakes, and an accidental omission of a footnote or an error in a citation is exactly that: an error. Concerns about academic dishonesty arise when there's a pattern that goes beyond the likelihood of error.

Because it's good to smile--especially about serious things--don't miss Tom Lehrer's famous satiric song about plagiarism, Lobachevsky. ". . . Plagiarize / Let no one else's work evade your eyes / Remember why the good Lord made your eyes / So don't shade your eyes / But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize / Only be sure always to call it please 'research' . . . " Full lyrics may be found here

© Jan Mainzer