Lesson 5 Wrapup: Unintentional Plagiarism
One of the reasons that few people memorize all the rules for avoiding unintentional plagiarism is that the rules keep changing. Still, the basic principles haven't changed a lot in the last fifty years or so. Avoiding unintentional plagiarism is a lot like washing your hair. The instructions are usually written down somewhere in case you forget how to do it, and you can avoid a lot of problems by reading them.
- Hair-washing Instructions: Shampoo, rinse, repeat.
- Plagiarism Instructions: Master the basic principles, and then look up the rest in the MLA or APA or Turabian style guide (or whichever other style guide your field of interest prefers).
Have you noticed that the shampoo bottle instructions never tell you when you can stop repeating? My personal theory is that they are trying to sell a lot of shampoo, but I'm a non-conformist, so I stop when I think it's clean enough.
When trying to master strategies for avoiding unintentional plagiarism, you also need to do a lot of repeating. You may repeat some things so often that you will memorize them. You may memorize other things for short-term memory, but if you have a semester when you don't write research papers, you may not be able to access that memory when you need it again the next semester.
That's why learning the major principles is the most important objective of this lesson. If you know the kinds of issues to consider, you can do what the rest of us do and look up everything you don't remember. You may return to any or all of this plagiarism tutorial at any time you choose in the future. Whatever resource you choose to use, don't wing it and think you'll be okay. Plagiarism -- unintentional or otherwise -- could land you in a heap of serious trouble. You are becoming a member of a community of serious academic scholars. Act accordingly:
- Pay attention to detail.
- Always acknowledge your debt to the scholars who have provided some useful information or given you something significant to think about.
- Be considerate and use the shorthand of your academic community so that others don't waste a lot of time trying to figure out if you used a journal article or a magazine or if your information was on page 2 or in volume 2.
- If you don't remember how to cite a source (which, at some point in your academic career, you won't -- and that will probably happen more often than not), look it up.