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"Where Do Your Ideas End and Mine Begin?": Navigating the Boundaries of Plagiarism
Editor's Note

It's getting tougher and tougher to teach students how to avoid plagiarism, it seems. So much information is available at the swipe of a fingertip, and so much of that information has already gone through numerous pipelines before we even receive it. We might not see a lot of great modeling online these days when it comes to source attribution, but classroom teachers and librarians know that students need to learn how to interact with source materials effectively—and to give credit where credit is due.

You'd think it would be relatively easy to teach academic honesty practices to students. It should be simple enough to tell your class: "Anything that didn't come from your own brain has to be cited. JUST DON'T CHEAT."

Students rarely plagiarize for the thrill of it or just to see what they can get away with; the price is just too high if they get caught. Some students might plagiarize because they're feeling panicked, intimidated, or overwhelmed by a subject or scope of a project. Some students may plagiarize accidentally: confusing paraphrasing with direct quoting or citing a source incorrectly. And some students plagiarize without even being aware of it, by inadvertently blurring that line between their ideas and the ideas that came from their sources.

Turns out, teaching the "What Not to Do" rules of plagiarism isn't so simple. Students will have important questions that deserve clear answers: What sort of information does and doesn't require citation? When is paraphrasing a better choice than quoting? Is it still plagiarizing if I'm using material I wrote for a different class?

Classroom teachers and librarians can collaborate to help students learn to identify, understand, and avoid plagiarism with a few key activities that demonstrate how to separate common knowledge from that which requires attribution, how it feels to actively plagiarize (on purpose, just once), and how to properly credit sources.

Start with these two videos below from ABC-CLIO ("Defining Plagiarism" and "Avoiding Plagiarism: Cite Your Sources") to begin a conversation with your students about what qualifies as plagiarism, as well as how easy it can be to avoid it. Then, use the set of three exercises outlined in "Avoiding Plagiarism: Guided Practice" to help students incorporate easy tips into making sure that the line between their great ideas and that of their sources stays clear.

About the Author

Seth Taylor, MFA, has 20 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, administrator and professional development specialist. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Rhetoric, Composition and Research Methodology San Diego State University, Colorado State University, and the University of Redlands.

MLA Citation

Taylor, Seth. "'Where Do Your Ideas End and Mine Begin?': Navigating the Boundaries of Plagiarism." School Library Connection, February 2020,

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Entry ID: 2234397