Plagiarism

Plagiarism


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To plagiarize is to represent another person’s academic work as your own.1 Westminster considers plagiarism a violation of the eighth and ninth commandments (Exod 20:15–16), which forbid the “taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him” and require the “preserving and promoting of truth between man and man” (WLC, Qs. 142, 145). A failure to cite sources means facing the consequences described in Westminster’s plagiarism policy:

Plagiarism is a serious infraction of the law of God and a violation of the Seminary’s Honor Code. For procedures for dealing with, and consequences, of infractions of the Honor Code, please see the Student Directory and Handbook.

Since notions about exactly what constitutes plagiarism vary from one institution to another and from one culture to another, we give examples below of what Westminster considers plagiarism and how you can avoid it.

What does correct citation look like?

To cite correctly, you may either quote or paraphrase another author's ideas or words. When you quote phrases or sentences directly from a source, you must copy the author's exact words and use both quotation marks and a footnote.2 Using only a footnote is not acceptable. You may also choose to paraphrase an author's ideas by expressing them in your own words. This also requires a footnote to give credit to the originator of the ideas. The following examples illustrate correct and incorrect citation of a passage from J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism.

Original Source

Modern liberalism in the Church, whatever judgment may be passed upon it, is at any rate no longer merely an academic matter. It is no longer a matter merely of theological seminaries or universities. On the contrary its attack upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith is being carried on vigorously by Sunday-School “lesson-helps,” by the pulpit, and by the religious press. If such an attack be unjustified, the remedy is not to be found, as some devout persons have suggested, in the abolition of theological seminaries, or the abandonment of scientific theology, but rather in a more earnest search after truth and a more loyal devotion to it when once it is found.1

           1 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 15.

Plagiarism: Copying the Words of the Author

Liberalism in the Church, whatever judgment we may pass upon it, is no longer merely an academic matter. On the contrary, a vigorous attack by Sunday-School teachers, by pastors, and by the religious media is being made upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith. If such an attack is not justified, the remedy is not to be found in the abolition of theological seminaries, or the abandonment of theology, but rather in a more earnest search after truth and a loyal devotion to it.

CORRECT: Quoting and Citing a Source´╗┐
The most appropriate response to modern liberalism is to engage in a passionate “search after truth” and exercise “a more loyal devotion to it when once it is found.”1

            

          1 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 15.

Explanation: Note the underlined sections that are taken almost word for word from the original. No quotation marks are used to indicate the exact wording of the original author. The author’s name is not mentioned, and no footnote is used. This is blatant plagiarism. Also notice that the writer rearranged and left out some of the original author’s words. Changing wording slightly or rearranging words is not an option for avoiding plagiarism. Your choices are to quote the author directly or paraphrase the ideas in your own words, using a footnote in either case.

Explanation: Note that when the exact words of the author have been used, they are enclosed in quotation marks. A footnote is provided with full citation information (for models, see the Citation and Formatting Guide). The words within the quotation marks are not altered but reproduced exactly as they appear in the original.

Plagiarism: Inadequate Paraphrase

Liberalism is no longer merely an academic matter. It unjustifiably attacks the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and in response to it, we need not abolish seminaries. We need only to search earnestly for the truth and devote ourselves to it.

CORRECT: Paraphrasing and Citing a Source

According to Machen, modern liberalism in the church should no longer be viewed as just an academic problem. Liberalism is now being spread through church life itself, for example, through sermons and Sunday School lessons. The proper response is not to blame seminaries or theologians but to commit ourselves more completely to pursing and upholding the truth.1

          1 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 15.

 

 

 

Explanation: The student has changed the wording slightly, but the ideas and the order in which they occur come from Machen, and yet the student does not mention his name or provide a footnote. When summarizing information and ideas from sources, it is not enough to change a few words from an original and represent the thoughts as your own. The specific phrases of the author as well as the flow of his thought cannot be used without giving him full credit.

Explanation: Note how this paraphrase presents the ideas of the author in the student’s own words. Even though there are no direct quotations, a footnote must be used. The author’s name is mentioned at the beginning of the paraphrase and a footnote is provided at the end. In this way, all of the ideas that are Machen’s are clearly credited to him. Several of Machen’s words (academic, liberalism) are used without fear of plagiarism, since they express the central content of Machen’s position.3

Plagiarism: taking the Author’s Unique Expressions 

Liberalism is a serious adversary of the church. Its attacks upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith are being carried on too vigorously to ignore. What can we do to oppose such a movement? The answer isn’t, as some allegedly devout persons have implied, that we should get rid of seminaries or abandon structured theology. Instead, we are called to make a more earnest search after truth, never letting go of it once it is in our hands.

CORRECT: Maintaining Your Own Voice

Today, many orthodox Christians recognize the need to respond to liberal movements within the church. If left unaddressed, these movements undermine the core of Christian belief. As early as 1923, Machen reminded us that liberal seminaries are not the only or even the central means of disseminating liberalism; since liberalism has worked its way into our churches and our publications, he advised us to address it with renewed personal commitment to Christ, by engaging in “a more earnest search after truth and a more loyal devotion to it when once it is found.”1 This paper outlines several practical ways  of responding to Machen’s exhortation.

          1 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, new ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 15.

Explanation: In contrast with the previous examples of plagiarism, the student has made his own claim, and then draws on Machen for support. However, no footnote is provided, nor is Machen’s name mentioned in the body of the text, even though Machen’s wording is used. The student has adopted Machen’s ideas without giving him credit. Notice that we cannot distinguish the student’s voice from that of the source. It seems as if they share the same opinion. This is a deceptive use of sources. Instead, when you quote or paraphrase a source, you should signal your own stance with reference to the source: comment on it; agree with it; disagree with it; or critique it. Explanation: The student has tracked with the broad topic that Machen presents, using his ideas as a foundation for his own thinking. When Machen is introduced, quotations are used and the source is footnoted. Throughout the paragraph we can clearly distinguish between the voice of the student and that of Machen.

 

For more information, see the Plagiarism: Frequently Asked Questions.


          1 H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron, The Little, Brown Handbook, 11th ed. (New York: Pearson Longman, 2010), 626. For a detailed discussion of plagiarism and how to avoid it, see Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 78-82. The Center for Theological Writing publishes the Citation and Formatting Guide, which illustrates the citation forms used most commonly in Westminster assignments.

          2 Parenthetical citation is accepted for some assignments. Ask your professor for details.

          3 Turabian, A Manual for Writers, 42, 75.