Do the Write/Right Thing: A Quick Guide to Avoiding Academic Dishonesty

Gigi A. Peterson | Jan 1, 2009

1. Direct quotes ALWAYS require BOTH quotation marks and a citation indicating the source

Example from Ronald Takaki’s Double Victory (Little, Brown, and Co., 2000), p. 5

Always alert for the contradictory and the oxymoronic, Terkel explained that he had added quotation marks around the phrase, not as a matter of caprice or editorial comment, but simply because the adjective “good” mated to the noun warwas so incongruous.”4 But the good war also had a different incongruity. The fervent defense of freedom was accompanied by a hypocritical disregard for our nation’s declaration that “all men are created equal.”

*Note quotation marks: “so incongruous”—Terkel; “incongruity”—Takaki, inspired by Terkel (he also includes a citation!)

*Note how even a short [unique] phrase requires quotation marks and crediting (a citation), especially when you are using another person’s idea. Try, whenever possible, to put ideas and information in your own words – combining what you learn from sources in a new way.

2. Changing or eliminating a few words, or moving words around, is NOT paraphrasing! An example:


In 1848, the King of Holland obtained a contract to build a canal across Nicaragua, only to have his plans postponed by a revolution in the Netherlands.

Plagiarized sentence

In 1848, Holland’s king expressed desire to build a canal across Nicaragua, but his plans were halted by unrest in the Netherlands.

Note how the effort to slightly change wording also alters meaning—here, significantly.

Better phrasing and working through of material:

While the United States and Britain pursued their own plans, a revolution in Holland set back that monarchy’s designs—including an 1848 contract—for a Nicaraguan canal.

3. Simple note-taking techniques can help you avoid accidentally plagiarizing from other writers

Typed copy of G Peterson’s old handwritten notes (excerpt):

Robt. Millon, Mexican Marxist: Vicente Lombardo Toledano (Chapel Hill, 1966)

Arrow UpAlways note full citation, & page #s, for source material

Arrow Down Put direct quotes, even if brief, in quotation marks.

p. 11  Lombardo involved in “worker ed” programs that “planted the seeds of humanistic culture“ in Mex. workers. CROM lders happy w/ “this diversion from their corruption and leadership problems“

Tip: Mark (highlight or circle) quotation marks Quoteso that later you’ll notice which passages are direct quotes.

Text in article published over ten years later:

Gigi Peterson, “A Dangerous Demagogue” in Robert Cherny et al, eds. American Labor in the Cold War (Rutgers Univ. Press, 2004), p. 24

Lombardo’s early career in educational and government posts typified that of many well-educated Mexican leftists, and in the late 1920’s through early 1930’s he also held important posts in … the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM). Among his projects for the CROM was conducting worker education programs that planted the seeds of humanistic culture in workers. Under scrutiny for various forms of misconduct. CROM leaders welcomed what they viewed as a diversion of worker attention.10  

Years after taking the notes, I knew it was Millon, not I, who wrote of “diversion” and “planting the seeds of humanistic culture.” Note the use of quotation marks and a citation.

4. Give yourself time to work through the material, time to write carefully, and time to revise. Avail yourself of resources providing academic support:

  • ASAP (Academic Support and Achievement Program), Cortland Online Writing Center
  • Purchase Kate Turabian et al, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations
  • Be sure you understand your College Handbook policies for academic integrity. From Section 340.07: “Students are responsible for knowing the policy on academic integrity. Failure of a faculty member to remind a student of what constitutes academic integrity and academic dishonesty will not obviate this responsibility.”

“Do the Write/Right Thing”: A Mini-Lesson on Academic Integrity

Some Explanatory Notes

  1. I found an illustration worth a thousand vague warnings, demonstrating the standards to which writers should aspire. In Double Victory, Ronald Takaki carefully put others’ special phrases—even if just two or three words long—in quotation marks. When I first went over this, several students experienced an “Aha! moment.” The major point summarized here: “Direct quotes ALWAYS require both quotation marks and a citation indicating the source” now appears on all my assignments as well.
  2. I illustrate the next major point, “Changing or eliminating a few words, or moving words around, is NOT paraphrasing,” with examples, some of them (not shown) from published work.
  3. The next step of the lesson models note-taking practices, including careful marking of direct quotations. Professionals know these basic skills, but students need to be taught them.
  4. Finally, I remind students to avoid procrastination and to take advantage of resources for writing assistance. Along with explicit first-day comments and syllabus elements, and written and verbal reminders on assignments, this eliminates students’ arguments that they “didn’t know” they were committing plagiarism. I teach practices for success, make expectations clear, and pursue plagiarism cases according to college policies. Students are responsible for their choices.

—Gigi Peterson is assistant professor of history and coordinates the secondary social studies program at the State University of New York at Cortland.

Tags: Resources and Strategies


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