Plagiarism is in the news again, most recently when a romance novel writer was found to have copied from an article on (no kidding) endangered black-footed ferrets. Here’s Paul Tolme, the freelance wildlife journalist, on being plagiarized:
In the Internet age, every freelance writer fears that his or her words will be appropriated without compensation. First I was angry. Then I had to laugh. To see my textbook descriptions of ferrets in a bodice-ripper, as dialogue between a hunky American Indian and a lustful pioneer woman who several pages later have sex on a mossy riverbank, is the height of absurdity.
The romance novelist is claiming ignorance as a cause of her plagiarism. Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse. Most students who plagiarize didn’t mean to: they either are careless in cutting and pasting from multiple sources and forget to attribute their sources, are genuinely confused about whether or how to cite something, or are working at the last minute and get desperate and sloppy.
How can you avoid plagiarism? The library has a tutorial that helps explain the dangers, sets out the rules of appropriate citation, and sends you to writing tutors or counselors if you need more help. A sample:
Chances are that you understand the difference between creating incomplete citations and passing off someone else’s work as your own. Still, you … may occasionally find yourself in confusing situations. Do Internet sources need to be cited the same way as books? How do you cite something from the Web if there’s no indication who wrote it? What if you rewrite someone else’s ideas, putting them all into your own words — do you still need to cite? If you are in doubt, you run the risk of unintentionally plagiarizing.
In the end, it all worked out for the ferrets. The romance novel reader’s community that broke the story has donated $5,000 to protect the black-footed ferret.
Written by Phoebe Acheson