Did I Plagiarize?

I use the Internet as well as books and magazines for my research. However, a publisher recently accused me of plagiarism. He pointed me to websites that contained information very similar to mine. Either my notes were too similar to the original articles, or maybe I retained too much of the research material in my memory before sitting down to write. I’m not sure if I plagiarized the works or not. Can you tell me what is and is not plagiarism?

The safest way to protect yourself from plagiarism allegations is to only make outlines of your research notes (one or two words instead of entire sentences) so there is no possible way for you to copy someone’s sentences or even partial sentences word-for-word. While teaching my children how to write research papers for school, I would read sentences out loud to them and then say, “Now, tell me, in your own words, what did I just say?” They would then recite to me what they thought the information meant in, of course, their own words. That’s how I taught them how to not plagiarize someone’s work. I also taught them to make notes using only one or two words in outline form rather than writing sentences as they appear word for word, or even similar to how they appeared in the publication they were researching.

In addition, always cite your sources to give them credit for providing the information for your research. This will dispel any accusation of plagiarism. And, if you must quote directly from a source, make sure the quote is brief and the publication and writer are fully credited in your article, right where the quote appears (i.e. On page 3 of the 06/30/03 edition of The New York Times, so-and-so states, “Blah blah blah…”)

The only time you don’t need to cite sources is when you’re writing from your own experience or, of course, an opinion piece. While the publication may or may not choose to publish your sources, you have provided them to the editor so he or she will know where you obtained the information. They are ultimately responsible for any wrongdoing by their writers, despite what their freelance contracts state (just because a contract says the writer is liable, there’s no guarantee that the writer will ever be able to reimburse them for legal fees or any losses in the event they are sued).

Plagiarism is defined on dictionary.reference.com as: n 1: a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work 2: the act of plagiarizing; taking someone’s words or ideas as if they were your own.

Source: WordNet