Have you ever heard the theory that in fiction, there are only 36 plots? If that is true, how could we not steal from each other? Everybody does it, so it must be OK. Or, it’s an obscure source, no one will ever know, I’m pretty sure.
Sound familiar? Have you used the words or ideas of others and claimed them as your own, and then justified it with the phrases above? As a writer, you should carefully review any work you publish, double-checking every piece of information you get from other sources.
A former student who plagiarized a paper told me that she inadvertently turned in the wrong document. She had collected information from the Internet in a document. Then she wrote a paper in another document, but accidentally printed out the first document (not the one she wrote) to turn in.
Could that happen? Yes. I have pasted information from other sources into documents. The difference is, I cite them or credit them even if I rewrite them. That’s right. It’s plagiarism when we use the words of others and don’t credit the source. It’s also plagiarism when we use the ideas of others and don’t credit the source.
One trick I use to prevent inadvertent plagiarism is to italicize any information I use from another source. My original work is not italicized, so within a document, I can easily see what is mine and what isn’t. Before I came up with this system, I had to cut some paragraphs from an article because I couldn’t identify the writing. I thought it was mine, but hadn’t identified it, so I erred on the side of caution and didn’t use it. Why take a chance on plagiarism?