Plagiarism – What it is and how to avoid it

In the academic editing I have done this year, I have come across quite a bit of plagiarism. This is strange and surprising to me as I have always been almost hyper aware of the serious consequences associated with plagiarism. I guess, though, that I shouldn't be too surprised because not all people have had the exposure to methods on how to avoid plagiarism as I have, or they just didn't care.
I have heard every excuse and every strange request possible when it comes to plagiarism and why it appears in people's documents:

  • I didn't know, really.
  • Can't you just edit it out for me?
  • I gave a reference at the end of the paragraph, isn't that enough?
  • Do I really have to put all that info into my own words?
  • Please check my work for anything that appears to be plagiarism and correct it.
  • How do I know if I have plagiarised?
  • Do I really have to reference EVERYTHING I use from a source?

The honest truth about plagiarism is that you are just spiting yourself and you are fooling no one, even if you appear to get away with plagiarism at first. There is never a quick and easy way to generating ideas and stealing someone else's ideas doesn't qualify as an appropriate way of generating content, whether it be academic, commercial or personal.
I have even seen people plagiarise quotes on menus, wedding and party invites and in tributes to people in speeches. For me, a lack of awareness is just sad and if you have heard the word “plagiarism” before, there are not many excuses for not knowing what it is and how to deal with it in this information age.
Ok, just to make sure, I'll give you a simple definition of plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you

  • take someone else's idea/s without acknowledging the other person,
  • use the direct wording from an information source without giving any references to the source,
  • make it seem that information that is really from another source is your own work,
  • put 'Unknown' as the author of a quote when you are just trying to hide the fact that you don't know who the author is,
  • don't use quotation marks to show the parts of your work that you have taken from another source,
  • copy and paste information from sources without acknowledging the source, and
  • take information from a source, paraphrase it and don't acknowledge it.

Now that you know what it is, here's how to avoid it:

  • Always give references to information that you have used from other sources.
  • Put information from other sources into your OWN words and reference the information.
  • Never try to pass off the work of others as your own.
  • Always reference other people's pictures, articles, quotes, books, photographs, etc that you use in your own work.

Let's face it, to generate new ideas, we have to build on old ideas. All work has to start somewhere, so just make sure you acknowledge the “somewhere” that you have taken your ideas from. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.
As the common saying goes: “Be wise, don't plagiarise!”