Plagiarism is a serious offense, because it is essentially stealing another person's work and passing it on as your own. This article will help you to understand just what plagiarism is and how it can be avoided.
Plagiarism is using another person's ideas without giving that person credit for the information. There are several ways to plagiarize. The most obvious form of plagiarism is when you directly copy from another work and pass it off word for word as your own. This will get you into trouble the quickest because it is the most obvious to the reader (professor). When you copy word for word, the section you stole will sound different from the rest of your paper, often using more sophisticated vocabulary or a writing style that is not used throughout the paper. You can also get into trouble when you paraphrase someone's ideas without citing them, even though it may not seem or feel like that is what you are doing. Whether you copy word for word or rewrite someone's work, if you do not indicate where the information came from, you are guilty of plagiarism.
Plagiarized information can come from almost anywhere and be anything-- another person's words, ideas, graphics, tables, mathematical formulas or anything else that is attributed to someone else. It can be a source found in written form or through a personal or telephone interview. The point is, when you are writing a paper and you try to use other people's information, you are stealing from them. The best thing to do is to avoid plagiarism in the first place by properly citing your sources consistently throughout your paper. (For further information see article, "How to Cite Your Sources.")
There are several steps that can help you to remember to cite your sources properly.
Make sure when you are taking notes that you indicate the source information next to your note. In the old days we used to write our notes onto note cards to make sure that we kept our sources with our facts. However you take notes, whether you type them into a computer or handwrite them onto paper or note cards, just make sure that you write all the pertinent information down about the source: author's full name, title of source (book title, journal article title, etc.) page or paragraph number, publisher, city and year published.
While you are writing your paper, you can use several tricks to make sure you attribute your sources correctly. If you know that the information came from somewhere else but you can't remember the source or have to look it up later, make a note like (need source information here). Don't worry about having the citation style perfect when you write your first draft. The most important thing to remember is to get that citation information in there next to the fact so that you can polish that up later when you look up how to cite it exactly, per the style guide.
When you read your paper and begin rewriting and editing, look for these notes to yourself and any other sections that do not sound like the rest. You may have unintentionally put in some information from a source and forgotten to cite it. Then look those passages up and put in the proper citation.
If you take notes properly, pay attention during the writing process and follow your style guide, you should have no trouble writing a paper that is original, while using good sources to back up your own facts and arguments.