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Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices

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This article discusses the issues surrounding plagiarism and providing detail into what plagiarism is and identifying how it can be regulated in an attempt to address this growing educational concern. The article describes plagiarism as an act “when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledg¬ing its source (Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism, 2003). The most common problems with regard to plagiarism lie in distinguishing plagiarism from misuse of sources.

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Plagiarism, as defined previously, is the use of another’s ideas without attributing it to its source, while misuse of sources, is the failure to properly attribute the ideas to its source (Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism, 2003). The difference is that in plagiarism, a person attempts to take credit for another’s idea while in misuse of sources, a person attempts to give credit to the source but fails to do this in the proper manner or format.

The reasons that students usually commit one error or another can be attributed to students difficulties with the integration of the information into their work, student’s failure to properly document research material, or simply be ignorant of the mistakes because of various learning backgrounds (Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism, 2003).

Whatever the causes for these mistakes, the difficult part for the educators is in discerning the intent of the writer in using the sources in order to determine whether or not there was merely a simple misuse of sources or a blatant attempt at plagiarism. Students may simply not be aware that what has been done is already plagiarism or has attempted to plagiarize but cleverly disguises it as a simple misuse of sources. The key therefore to addressing this educational problem lies in making sure students understand the relevance of proper citation in their work.