I stumbled across a helpful article on plagiarism that I thought I’d share in light of my previous post highlighting an egregious example of plagiarism. It’s written by the folks at Desiring God. I commend it to you.
The only issue I have with the article is that it is potentially misleading on what it means to paraphrase. Here’s the second of three items they list that entail plagiarism:
Paraphrasing another’s words without acknowledging the author whose words you are restating. In other words, if you do not quote the person verbatim but instead just change a few words and do not give credit, you have committed plagiarism.
The problem is that “paraphrasing another’s words” is not the same as “just chang[ing] a few words,” as the above statement seems to imply. (Perhaps the authors didn’t intend to imply that, but why introduce the concept of “chang[ing] a few words” unless as a means of explicating paraphrasing in the previous clause?) If all you do is change a few words, even if you have given credit to the author, you have still plagiarized. Paraphrasing involves using different words and syntax so that the mode of expression is clearly yours, though the thought is still clearly the author’s.
The reason that “just chang[ing] a few words” is and should be considered plagiarism, even when the source is cited, is that by accepted practice paraphrasing gives the author credit only for the idea, not for the mode of expression. (Quoting gives the author credit for both the idea and the mode of expression.) So your readers will think that you were the clever one to come up with the particular way of saying it, even though in reality both the idea and the expression of it belong to the author.
That minor quibble aside, it’s well worth reading.