NOT TO PLAGIARIZE
Material prepared by Margaret Procter, Coordinator of
for use at the University of Toronto.
Updated September 22, 1997
Reprinted with permission of the author.
You've already heard the warnings about plagiarism. Obviously it's
against the rules to buy essays or copy chunks from your friend's
homework, and it's also plagiarism to borrow passages from books or
articles without identifying them. In any case, you need to show your
own thinking, not just create a patchwork of borrowed ideas. But you
may still be wondering how you're supposed to give proper references
to all the reading you've done and all the ideas you've encountered.
The point of documenting sources in academic papers is not just
to avoid unpleasant visits to the Dean's office, but to demonstrate
that you know what is going on in your field of study. It's also
a courtesy to your readers because it helps them consult the material
you've found. So mentioning what others have said doesn't lessen
the credit you get for your own thinking--in fact, it adds to your
That's not to say that questions about ownership of ideas are
simple. The different systems for typing up references are admittedly
a nuisance (the file Documentation
Formats explains basic formats), but the real challenge is establishing
the relationship of your thinking to the reading you've done. Here
are some common questions and basic answers.
- Can't I avoid problems just by listing every source
in the bibliography? No, you need to integrate your acknowledgements
into what you're saying. Give the reference as soon as you've
mentioned the idea you are using. (Don't wait till the end of
the paragraph.) That may mean naming authors ("X says"
and "Y argues against X,") and then going on to make
your own comment. The examples in this file and the one on Documentation
Formats show various wordings.
- If I put the ideas into my own words, do I still have
to clog up my pages with all those names and numbers?
Sorry--yes, you do. In academic papers, you need to keep mentioning
authors and pages and dates to show how your ideas are related
to those of the experts. It's sensible to use your own words to
save space and to help connect ideas smoothly. But whether you
quote a passage directly in quotation marks, paraphrase it closely
in your own words, or just summarize it rapidly, you need to identify
the source then and there.
- But I didn't know anything about the subject until
I started this paper. So do I have to give a reference for every
point I make? You're safer to over-reference than to
skimp. But you can cut down the clutter by recognizing that some
ideas are "common knowledge" in the field--that is,
taken for granted by people knowledgeable about the topic. Facts
easily found in reference books are considered common knowledge:
the date of the Armistice for World War I, for example, or the
present population of Canada. For such facts, you don't need to
name a specific source, even if you learned them only when doing
your research. In some disciplines, information covered in class
lectures doesn't need acknowledgement. Some interpretive ideas
may also be so well accepted that they don't need referencing--that
Picasso is a distinguished modernist painter, for instance, or
that smoking is harmful to health. Check with your professor or
TA if you're in doubt whether a specific point is considered common
knowledge in your field.
- How can I tell what's my own idea and what has come
from something I read? Careful note-taking helps, so
you know what names and dates to attach to specific ideas. It's
worthwhile to write summarizing notes in your own words, putting
quotation marks around any specific wordings you might want to
quote. And you should make a deliberate effort, as you go through
your readings, to note connections among ideas, especially contrasts
and disagreements, as well as jotting down questions and thoughts
of your own. Then, as you write, if you find that you seem to
be following one or two sources too closely, deliberately look
back in your notes for other sources that take different views--than
write about why the differences exist.
- So what exactly do I have to document? With
experience reading academic prose, you'll soon get used to the
ways writers in your field refer to their sources. Here are the
main times you should give acknowledgements. (You'll notice many
different formats in these examples. See the file on
Documentation Formats for explanations.)
Material prepared by Margaret Procter, Coordinator of Writing
a. Quotations, paraphrases, or summaries: Don't waste
space on long quotations. In literary studies, quote a few words
of the work you're analysing and comment on them. In other disciplines,
quote only when the original words are especially memorable. In
most cases, use your own words to summarize the idea you want
to discuss, emphasizing the points relevant to your argument.
But be sure to name sources even when you are not using the exact
original words. It's often a good idea to mention the author's
name to gain some reflected authority and to indicate where the
borrowing starts and stops.
e.g. As Morris puts it in The Human Zoo (1983),
"we can always be sure that today's daring innovation will
be tomorrow's respectability" (p. 189). [APA system]
e.g. Northrop Frye discusses comedy in terms of the spring
spirit, which he defines as the infusion of new life and hope
into human awareness of universal problems.7 The ending
of The Tempest fits this pattern. [traditional endnote
or footnote system]
b. Specific facts used as evidence for your argument or interpretation:
First consider whether the facts you're mentioning are "common
knowledge" according to the definition in point 3 above.
When you're relying on facts that might be disputed within your
discipline--perhaps newly published data--establish that they're
trustworthy by showing that you got them from an authoritative
e.g. In September 1914, more than 1300 skirmishes were
recorded on the Western Front (Taylor 337). [MLA system]
e.g. Other recent researchers (4,11,12) confirm the findings
that drug treatment has little effect in the treatment of pancreatic
pseudocysts. [number system]
c. Distinctive or authoritative ideas, whether you agree
with them or not: The way you introduce a reference can indicate
your attitude and lead into your own argument.
e.g. Writing in 1966, Ramsay Cook asserted that Canada
was in a period of critical instability (6). That period is not
yet over, judging by the same criteria of electoral changeability,
economic uncertainty, and confusion in policy decisions. MLA
e.g. One writer (Von Daniken, 1970) even argues that the
Great Pyramid was built for the practical purpose of guiding navigation.
for use at the University of Toronto.
Updated September 22, 1997