Writing Well

Stop, Thief!

As you learned in “Paper Chase,” you write a research paper to argue a thesis. To do so, you cite other writers' words and ideas, giving full credit. As you write, you honor your moral responsibility to use someone else's ideas ethically and make it easy for readers to check your claims. What should you document? Give a source for everything that's not common knowledge, the information an educated person is expected to know. If you fail to give adequate credit, you can be charged with plagiarism.

Plagiarism means using some else's words without giving adequate credit. Plagiarism is …

  • Using someone else's ideas without acknowledging the source.
  • Paraphrasing someone else's argument as your own.
  • Presenting an entire paper or a major part of it developed as another writer did.
  • Arranging your ideas exactly as someone else did—even though you acknowledge the source(s).
Write Angles

Use square brackets, [ ], to add necessary information to a quotation.

Word Watch

Plagiarism is representing someone else's words or ideas as your own.

Fortunately, avoiding plagiarism is a piece of cake: you just document your sources correctly. Be especially careful when you create paraphrases. It's not enough to change a few words, rearrange a few sentences, and call it kosher. Here's how to correct the problem with parenthetical documentation:

Original source:

  • The story of Hester Prynne, heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, takes place in seventeenth-century Boston. Hawthorne no doubt wandered through the King's Chapel Burial Ground when he worked in the nearby Custom House from 1839 to 1841. Tradition says that the fictional Hester Prynne is based on the original Elizabeth Pain (or Payne), who is buried in that graveyard. There is a big red A with two lions on the upper-left corner of Pain's gravestone. The crest looks amazingly like Hester's gravestone, as described in the last line of The Scarlet Letter: “On her stone there appears the semblance of an engraved escutcheon with ‘on a field, sable, the letter A gules.'”

Plagiarism:

  • Hawthorne set his romance The Scarlet Letter in Boston in the 1600s. The story describes characters who could be buried in the King's Chapel Burial Ground. Hawthorne had probably walked through this graveyard when he worked in the nearby Custom House in the nineteenth century. People think that Hawthorne's character Hester Prynne is based on the original Elizabeth Pain (or Payne). The two gravestones are a lot alike, since both have a big red A with two lions on the upper-left corner. Pain's gravestone looks like Hester's, as described in the last sentence in The Scarlet Letter: “On her stone there appears the semblance of an engraved escutcheon with ‘on a field, sable, the letter A gules.'”

Not plagiarism:

  • A granite marker erected in the King's Chapel Burial ground cites another intriguing source for Hester Prynne. According to the information on this marker, Hawthorne drew inspiration for Hester Prynne from the real-life tale of Elizabeth Pain (or Payne). On the surface, the similarities are astonishing: Both gravestones have a big red A with two lions on the upper-left corner. However, Pain was tried and acquitted for the murder of her child, while Prynne was tried and convicted for adultery (Powers, 191). However, Hawthorne had very likely seen Pain's gravestone as he walked through the burial ground on his way to his job next door at the Custom House. Perhaps Pain's striking marker sparked the idea for Hester's gravestone, which Hawthorne describes this way: “On her stone there appears the semblance of an engraved escutcheon with ‘on a field, sable, the letter A gules.'”

As you've already learned in this section, to create a footnote or endnotes, just add the subscript number at the end of the sentence or passage in place of the parenthetical citation.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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