Plagiarized vs. Non-Plagiarized Term Papers

(Updated on April 5, 2017 by Michelle Williams)


A plagiarized term paper is one that's falsely represented as a student's work when it should in fact be credited to another writer.  There are varying degrees of plagiarism, and thus several different types of plagiarized term papers.  All should be avoided, as plagiarism is taken extremely seriously by all instructors and academic institutions.

Some students mistakenly believe that a plagiarized term paper is one that a student has copied in total from another writer or source.  Though this is indeed a form of a plagiarized term paper, it's more likely that a plagiarized term paper will be only partially copied or, in many cases, unintentionally plagiarized.  A plagiarized term paper is any project that has even one sentence that's intentionally or mistakenly represented as the writer's own when in fact it's not.  

Some students may wonder how one can unintentionally plagiarize.  In fact, unintentional plagiarism is probably the most common form of plagiarism because many learners who would never copy another person's work and submit it as their own are still unaware of how to properly give credit to outside authors and sources.  Even if it's unintentional, however, plagiarism is plagiarism, and accidental plagiarism can carry the same penalties as intentional plagiarism.

Plagiarized vs. Non-Plagiarized Term PapersIn order to avoid accidentally writing plagiarized term papers, students need to learn how to properly cite the sources they incorporate in their texts.  Below are a few guidelines.

Any fact, opinion, or idea that's not the student's own, original thought and isn't common knowledge needs to be cited.  Common knowledge can be divided into two different branches.  The first branch is anything that most people in a specific culture know by virtue of belonging to that culture.  For instance, most Americans know that the first president of the United States was George Washington.  This isn't something that needs to be cited.  The other branch of common knowledge depends on the discipline in which the paper is being written.  For instance, if a student is completing a paper on William Shakespeare and writes that Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, that student wouldn't need to cite this, because most people who have studied Shakespeare know where he was born.  If unsure about what is and isn't common knowledge in a specific course, a student should check with his/her instructor.

If a fact, opinion, or idea is determined not to be common knowledge, the student must find a source that asserts that fact, opinion, or idea and then cite from where that source came.  There are two ways of incorporating sources into texts.  The first is to quote.  This means replicating exactly the way the fact, opinion, or idea was presented in the text and enclosing it in quotation marks.  For instance, the exact passage "Cats have more advanced gray matter in their brains than dogs do," if taken from another source, is a quotation of that source.  

The second way of incorporating others' ideas into papers is to paraphrase.  To paraphrase is to assimilate the information presented in the source into one's own words and rewrite it.  For instance, a paraphrase of the quoted sentence above on cat brains may be as follows: "The gray matter of a cat brain is more developed than the gray matter of a dog brain."  Paraphrasing isn't the same as rearranging the sentences the source writer used.  In fact, when paraphrasing, one should avoid using the same words as the source writer with the exception of specific terminology.  

Sometimes plagiarized term papers include quotations and paraphrases, but fail to insert citations.  A citation is an indication of the author of the quote or paraphrase.  Some citations will also include a page number or a year of publication for the work.  The citation will sometimes be included in the sentence itself.  Other times, it will be enclosed in a footnote or in parentheses following the sentence.  In a citation included within the text of a sentence, the author's name is mentioned in the sentence in which the quote or paraphrase appears, like this: "Smith asserts that all cats are smarter than dogs, claiming that cats have more advanced gray matter in their brains.'"  Here, the author (Smith) is mentioned in the sentence; therefore, the student only needs to include the page number and perhaps the year of publication, if his/her instructor wishes, in the parenthetical note or footnote.  If, however, Smith weren't mentioned, and the sentence read like this: "Indeed, it has been asserted that cats have more advanced gray matter in their brains,'" then the footnote or parenthetical note would need to contain both the author and page number.  

Avoiding a plagiarized term paper requires learning these rules of proper citation and following them exactly.  If a student has more particular questions about citations and plagiarism or is unsure whether or not he/she is plagiarizing, he/she should consult his/her instructor for more guidance.

How to Write Non-Plagiarized Term Papers

A non-plagiarized term paper is a project that presents the original ideas of the writer and gives appropriate credit to words and ideas borrowed from secondary sources.  Non-plagiarized term papers use proper citations, references, research, and original ideas.

Creating non-plagiarized term papers requires the student writer to think for himself/herself and to present ideas, opinions, analyses, and arguments that the student determines through his/her own thinking rather than someone else's.  This doesn't mean that a non-plagiarized term paper can't incorporate the ideas and words of others; in fact, most term papers will include outside sources to support the ideas of the author.  These sources must simply be accurately referenced and properly cited in order to indicate to the reader that they're the ideas of others and not the writer's own, thus avoiding plagiarism.  

There are two ways of incorporating the ideas of others into one's own text: paraphrasing and quoting.  To paraphrase is to assimilate the information presented in another source into one's own words and rewrite it.  Paraphrasing isn't merely rearranging the words the source writer used, however.  When paraphrasing, one should avoid using the same words as the source writer with the exception of specific terminology.  To quote means to replicate exactly an excerpt from a source and to indicate that it's an exact replication by enclosing the source material in quotation marks.  

In order to properly give credit to the source of the paraphrase or quotation, non-plagiarized term papers must present citations in the document to indicate from where the source came.  A citation will note the author of the quote or paraphrase.  Some citations will also include a page number or a year of publication for the work.  The citation will sometimes be included in the sentence itself, appearing in parentheses at the end of the sentence (like this).  Other times, the citation will be indicated by a footnote, in which the source material is provided at the bottom of the page.  

Most instructors require their students to follow a certain citation style.  All writing styles have particular guidelines that instruct writers on the way they should cite and what information must be included in the citation.  It is therefore advisable for students to become familiar with the writing style preferred by their instructor and discipline and write term papers by following the guidelines presented in the writing style's manual.

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