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Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing

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Paraphrasing and Plagiarism: What the writing guides say

Guideline 6: When paraphrasing and/or summarizing others’ work we must reproduce the exact meaning of the other author’s ideas or facts using our words and sentence structure.

Although virtually all professional and student writing guides, including those in the sciences, provide specific instructions on the proper use of quotes, references, etc., many fail to offer specific details on proper paraphrasing. With some exceptions, writing guides that provide instructions for proper paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism tend to subscribe to a ‘conservative’ approach to paraphrasing. That is, these guides often suggest that when paraphrasing, an author must substantially modify the original material. Consider the following examples of paraphrasing guidelines:
"Don't plagiarize. Express your own thoughts in your own words…. Note, too, that simply changing a few words here and there, or changing the order of a few words in a sentence or paragraph, is still plagiarism. Plagiarism is one of the most serious crimes in academia." (Pechenik, 2001; p.10).
"You plagiarize even when you do credit the author but use his exact words without so indicating with quotation marks or block indentation. You also plagiarize when you use words so close to those in your source, that if your work were placed next to the source, it would be obvious that you could not have written what you did without the source at your elbow." (Booth, Colomb, & Williams, 1995; p. 167)
On the other hand, some writing guides appear to suggest a more liberal approach to paraphrasing. For example, consider the following guideline from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001), a guide that is also used by other disciplines (e.g., Sociology, Education), in addition to psychology:
"…Each time you paraphrase another author (i.e., summarize a passage or rearrange the order of a sentence and change some of the words), you need to credit the source in the text." (p. 349).
However, this same resource provides an example of paraphrasing that is consistent with the more conservative definitions outlined above. Moreover, other writing guides (e.g., Hacker, 2000) that review the style used by American Psychological Association (APA) interpret the APA guidelines in the same conservative fashion.

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