The Gray Areas of Plagiarism

When writing papers, it’s super important that your work is your own original material. Most students wouldn’t dream of passing off someone else’s work as their own, but plagiarism isn’t always deliberate cheating. There are gray areas around it, meaning that it can happen by mistake — so you need to know about the different kinds of plagiarism to make sure you don’t get caught.

Self-Plagiarism

Your own original writing is yours to use as many times as you like, right? Wrong! Using work you previously submitted counts as self-plagiarism and could get you into trouble if your tutor or instructor picks it up. So, if you decide to return to an argument you’ve presented before in a new piece of work, you need to cite yourself as a source, just as you would cite any other reference using APA citation or similar methods — however strange that might seem!

Patchwriting

Patchwriting is similar to paraphrasing, where the ideas or meaning of a quote are expressed with different words. But with patchwriting, the writer patches together quotes that are too close to the original source, without citations. For example:

Original Quote:

“Patchwriting is similar to paraphrasing, where the ideas or meaning of a quote are expressed with different words. But with patchwriting, the writer patches together quotes that are too close to the original source, without citations.”

Patchwriting:

Patchwriting is like paraphrasing where “the ideas or meaning of a quote are expressed with different words.” This happens when a writer “patches together quotes that are too close to the original source” within their own writing.

Patchwriting is often a tell-tale sign that a writer is being lazy or hasn’t fully understood the ideas and vocabulary they are exploring in their writing. It can actually be a useful tool for gaining understanding of your subject as part of the drafting process, but it should never be used in a final essay. Also, it’s important to note that throwing in quotation marks doesn’t mean you’re not guilty of plagiarism — you still need to cite your source!

Omission of Sources

Whether your college requires you to use MLA formatting or another citation system, it’s crucial that you credit every single external source in your finished assignment. Even if it’s an honest mistake or oversight, failing to do this could result in you being guilty of plagiarism, scoring an F and possibly facing further disciplinary action.

Most of us remember to use the correct citation when we are directly quoting a source — for example, a quotation of a line from the poem “A Bird Came Down” by Emily Dickinson, to back up our interpretation of one its themes. But omission of sources can become a more hazy area when you’re not dealing with direct quotes. If you repeat the ideas of any source (even an informal one, e.g. a poetry blogger) on the themes of Emily Dickinson’s “A Bird Came Down,”  it still counts as plagiarism. Remember, if in doubt, cite!

Direct Plagiarism

 When you plagiarize directly, you take someone else’s work and present it as your own, with no citation at all. You are far more likely to get caught if you ‘borrow’ a famous quote, but you are equally as guilty of plagiarism if you pass off one of your roommate’s old assignments as your own. No matter how obscure the source, direct plagiarism is cheating, and if you get caught, you could have severe consequences to face. If time is an issue or you are struggling to understand a concept, talk to a tutor! And don’t forget, even if you change the occasional word or phrase, if it’s recognizable as the original source and is not cited, it is direct plagiarism.


Citation Machine can help you add the right citations for all your sources. Simply upload your paper or essay for a quick and easy way to ensure that the gray areas of plagiarism don’t catch you out.