Using Source Material and Avoiding Plagiarism

By Rachael Sullivan

NOTE: Excepting the common knowledge exercise, all examples of original source material were taken from the following article: Easterbrook, Gregg. "Some Convenient Truths. " Atlantic Online. Sep. 2006. 15 Mar. 2009 <>.

Since this is an online article, we'll cite paragraph numbers instead of page numbers.

Have you ever thought about how easy it would be to borrow a phrase from another scholar? Or to purchase a pre-written essay online? Or to include part of another scientist's bar graph in your own illustration? When faced with a difficult writing assignment, reckless alternatives can seem very attractive as deadlines loom.

Plagiarism: the "easy button" of English classes everywhere! Plagiarism means to use someone else's work without giving credit to the source. Some college students don't know that this is wrong because in their culture, ideas cannot be owned and using the words of another writer without a citation is actually a gesture of respect. Most American students, however, know that plagiarism is wrong and that they should avoid it. Many students can identify the plagiarism in the following example:

Original source: Here's a different way of thinking about the greenhouse effect: that action to prevent runaway global warming may prove cheap, practical, effective, and totally consistent with economic growth.

A student uses the source: We should all try to think about how action to prevent runaway global warming may prove cheap, practical, effective, and totally consistent with economic growth.

The student passage above is an example of intentional plagiarism. This means that the student obviously tried to pass off Easterbrook's words as his or her own. There is no mention of a source and no attempt at citation. An offense like this is easy to catch and has serious consequences; penalties at UT Dallas are severe. (Review the academic dishonesty policy)

At this point, you might be tempted to stop reading this guidance and move on to a more interesting task. "Okay, I got it. Plagiarism is stealing. Don't plagiarize. What else is there to say? "

There is a lot more that you should know about plagiarism. For one thing, knowing the definition of plagiarism does not mean that students will stop plagiarizing. If it were that simple, UT Dallas would not spend money on services like, which draws from Web content and student papers across the country to check for plagiarism in essays. Also, you should know that intentional plagiarism is not the only type of plagiarism. There is also unintentional plagiarism, which is much more difficult to avoid, although it carries the same consequences as intentional plagiarism. It might seem unfair to be accused of plagiarism when it was an accident. Unfortunately, you would be guilty despite your intentions. In college, you are expected to know the rules about using sources, learn the rules if you don't know them and follow the rules in all situations.

Writing Opportunity: Complete a ten-minute freewrite on the question: "Why do some students - and even published journalists and authors - plagiarize? "

In your Rhetoric class at UT Dallas, you will be required to use outside sources for the arguments you write. Your instructor will help you learn how to integrate and cite your sources. However, even with conscious effort, plagiarism happens to good students when they are just a little careless in their research or their wording. This activity divides the types of unintentional plagiarism into three sections:

  1. Confusion about what sources need acknowledgment
  2. Poor paraphrases
  3. Incorrect citations and direct quotes