Imagine this: You have invited some friends over for dinner. Because you did not have time to make a dessert, you stop at a local bakery and pick up a cake. After dinner, your friends compliment you on the delicious cake you made. How do you respond? Most people would give credit to the person who made the cake: “I’m glad You liked it, but I didn’t make it. I bought it at Sunshine Bakery.” By clarifying that the cake was not yours, you are rightfully giving the credit to Sunshine Bakery. The same concept holds true in writing.
When you write a paragraph or an essay, you should use your own words for the most part. Sometimes, however, writers want to use ideas that they have read in another piece of writing. For example, a writer may want to use a quotation from a famous politician if he or she is writing a paragraph about a recent election. In this case, the writer must indicate that the words are not his or her own, but that they came from someone else, and give credit to that writer. The action of indicating that a writer’s words are not original but rather they are from another source is called citing. In academic writing, it is imperative for a writer to cite all sources of information that is not original.
If writers do not give credit for borrowed ideas or borrowed words, they make a serious error In fact it is academic theft, and such stealing of ideas or words is not tolerated at all. It is not acceptable to use even a few words from another source without citing the source-the amount of information that you borrow is irrelevant. Stealing is stealing. If you steal one sentence or even one phrase from another source it is still considered stealing. Stealing someone else’s ideas or words and using them in a piece of writing as if they were your original ideas is called plagiarism. In an academic setting, plagiarism is considered a very serious offense. In most schools, there are serious academic consequences for plagiarizing any work. For example, some schools require the paper to receive a score of 0 (zero). Other schools will expel the student permanently. In some instances, schools will take both of the above steps.
Does this mean then that writers cannot use other people’s words or ideas? No, not at all. In fact, a writer’s key points can be strengthened by using facts from outside sources or quotes from experts. Consequently, writers are encouraged to borrow appropriate information. The key to avoiding plagiarism is to cite the source of the information.
Many students have a difficult time knowing when to use a citation, especially if they believe the information is general knowledge. For example, Hessa, a student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is writing an essay about her country. She knows that the UAE is made up of seven emirates. Does she need to cite this information? If Hessa is writing this essay in an English-speaking country where people may not know that there are seven emirates, she needs to cite the information. If, however, the information is common knowledge in Hessa’s academic community, she would not have to cite the information.
In the end, it is better to cite the information than to risk being accused of plagiarism. Before turning in any piece of writing, it is helpful to mark any information that is not your original writing. For any information that you mark, you need to give credit to the person, organization, or Web site that originally wrote it by citing those sources.