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Studying in the US: How to Avoid Being Accused of Plagiarism

We explain this intellectual offense in week 30 of our Foreign Student Series. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Plagiarism is the act of representing another person's words or ideas as your own. The offense may be as small as a sentence copied from a book. Or it may be as extensive as a whole paper copied -- or bought -- from somebody else.

Intellectual dishonesty is nothing new. The only difference now is that the Internet has made it much simpler to steal other people's work. Yet the same technology that makes it easy to find information to copy also makes it easier to identify plagiarism.

Teachers can use online services that compare papers to thousands of others to search for copied work. The teacher gets a report on any passages that are similar enough to suspect plagiarism. These services are widely used., for example, says it is used in more than one hundred countries and examines more than one hundred thirty thousand papers a day.

Professional writers who plagiarize can be taken to civil court and ordered to pay damages. In schools, the punishment for cheating could be a failing grade on the paper or in the course. Some schools expel plagiarists for a term; others, for a full academic year. Some degrees have even been withdrawn after a school later found that a student had plagiarized.

Accidental plagiarism can sometimes result from cultural differences.

At Indiana University in Bloomington, sixty percent of students who use the Office of Writing Tutorial Services are non-native English speakers. The director, Joanne Vogt, says some have no idea that copying from published works is considered wrong. She says students from China, for example, may think they are insulting readers if they credit other sources. They believe that educated readers should already know where the information came from.

The more you give credit, the less you risk accusations of plagiarism. Any sentences taken directly from a source should appear inside quotation marks. And even if you put those sentences into your own words, you should still give credit to where you got the information.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. More about plagiarism next week. We will also discuss other rules for academic writing in the United States. Earlier reports in our Foreign Student Series are at -- along with links to some writing resources at American universities. I'm Steve Ember.