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Read the following examples and decide if each is an example of acceptable paraphrasing or of plagiarism.

  • Burnett points out that competing search engine companies have proprietary software that collects and updates sites differently. As a result, one will provide what you want within the first ten hits, while another is useless. That means that researchers will frequently need to use several engines to obtain the best or more comprehensive answers ( 2001 ).
  • Multiple search engines on the Internet have arisen, each with unique strengths and weaknesses. These differences derive from each engine’s respective method of analyzing and classifying information on the Internet. As a direct result of these differences, more exhaustive search results are often obtained through the use of several engines ( Burnett 2001 ).
  • When researching a specific subject on the Internet, the use of multiple search engines is essential for a thorough search because each search engine utilizes different algorithms.
  • Rebecca Burnett suggests that we use several search engines because sometimes there is tremendous overlap in results and the outcome differs from search engine to search engine ( 2001 ).

Answers to the above 4 responses, which were all written by students who thought they were paraphrasing. only one succeeded.

  • Even though the author’s name and date are cited, this is clearly plagiarism . Changing the verb from passive to active (“are collected and updated differently” becomes “collects and updates differently”) is not sufficient change. Substituting “while” for “whereas” in “within the first ten hits …another is useless” again is not sufficient change. Some exact wording is retained; sentence structure is identical. The same objections hold for “to use several engines …. The best or more comprehensive answers.”Some students have tried to argue that the information in the original paragraph is now common knowledge and that, as a result, some use of the exact wording is inevitable. I agree, to a certain extent. I wouldn’t be surprised if “proprietary software” occurred to many writers as a phrase. But example #1 relies far too heavily on simple substitution while retaining sentence structure and whole blocks of words.
  • This is a fine paraphrase . The source is cited and the only duplicate wording occurs in “several engines,” a phrase that I would agree is in common use and therefore is not plagiarism.
  • This is an acceptable paraphrase, but the source is not cited. So it is plagiarism!
  • Because this is so short, you might be tempted to call is a paraphrase. But “tremendous overlap” is identical, and “the outcome differs from search engine to search engine” changes only “varies” to “differs” and leaves the rest of the wording and structure the same. It is plagiarism.

Frequently asked questions

When don’t i have to cite the source for information?

You don’t have to cite basic knowledge that is found in two or more textbooks. But neither can you use it word for word—you must paraphrase. The exception would be something like a common formula or algorithm; those you would have to use as they appear in the source.

What if i’m using a common method that’s difficult to reword? do i have to cite the source?

If you use it word for word rather than paraphrasing it, you must cite the source. I know of an Assistant Professor who was denied tenure for taking a method word for word from a published paper.

How do i cite a source that i read about in a different article, a review article, for example?

You will have to cite the source as well as the review article. It’s always best to get a copy of the original article instead of relying on what someone else says about it. Reviewers are not equally good, and even a good reviewer may be focusing on different aspects of the article than you need. The exception would be an article originally published in a language you can’t read or an article that is no longer available. In such cases you must make clear that it is the reviewer’s interpretation that you are citing.

What do i put in the bibliography?

Everything you cited and nothing that you didn’t cite.

What should i do if i have an important quotation or a really relevant figure, but i can’t remember where i found them?

See if you can track it down via the Internet. If you can’t find it, you can’t use it.

Can i cite my own previously published paper or my thesis in a paper i’m submitting for publication?

Of course! Keep in mind, though, that every author listed on a published paper has equal copyright ownership and can also cite the paper. Being first author does not give you sole ownership. If you were first author and are now using essentially the entire paper as a chapter in your Master’s or PhD thesis, make clear at the outset of the chapter that it comes largely from your paper (cite it clearly!). Then later in the chapter make it absolutely clear that the chapter is based on your paper. If you use any figures or tables from the published paper, cite those as well. If you are using your thesis as the basis for a paper, make that clear, too. You can cite it as an unpublished thesis or dissertation.

When do i have to get permission to quote or paraphrase something?

In the academic world, this is sometimes a gray area. You usually don’t have to get permission for use if you are writing a paper for a class, a Master’s thesis, or a PhD dissertation, though you must cite the source. And because being cited helps faculty receive tenure or academic awards, most researchers are delighted to be cited in academic journals. Journals may have guidelines, though, so be sure to check. The issue becomes less clear if your paper is chosen to be published in a Proceedings; you may well have to get permission for use there. Check with the editors. And if you publish a book, you will almost certainly need to get permission from the author. Keep a paper copy of your request and a paper copy of the reply. If your paper comes out of funded research, you may need permission to publish what might otherwise be considered the intellectual property of the funding agency.

Author: Janice L. Hewitt, Ph.D., Rice University. jhewitt@rice.edu

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Plagiarism and scientific writing. OpenStax CNX. Nov 16, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10604/1.1
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