An Example of Unconscious Plagiarism

The World Wide Web makes plagiarism much too easy for some students to resist. Students who cheat in this manner know what they are doing and are hoping that they will not be caught. If they are caught, the penalty can be severe. In this course a plagiarized paper will receive a zero, a grade that will seriously affect a student's semester grade. Other students, however, plagiarize without fully realizing that they are doing so. The following is a passage from a paper on Marcus Garvey submitted to an online section of Introduction to American Literature:


Garvey arrived during the dawn of the "New Negro" era. He stayed with a Jamaican family in Harlem. He found work as a printer and saved enough money to begin fundraising tour throughout the United States (Marcus Garvey). Garvey's whirlwind tour began in Harlem and proceeded through thirty-eight states.

Garvey's first two attempts to establish a New York chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association with headquarters in Jamaica were sabotaged by socialists and Republicans who wanted to turn it into a political club. In his third attempt he had formed a cadre of thirteen like-minded souls. This one too had its opposition but Garvey was able to pull through. When Garvey decided to stay in the United States the UNIA was incorporated in the state of New York on July 2, 1918 (Marcus Garvey).

The student's parenthetical references direct his reader to the source of this information, an online biography of Marcus Garvey on a web site titled Shades of Black. Identifying his source in this manner indicates that he is not trying to hide anything and that he probably doesn't think he has done anything wrong. But as an examination of the original source below shows, he has directly quoted the original material without using quotation marks to show that these are not his words. This is plagiarism and it would be plagiarism even if the copied portions were less extensive.

When Garvey arrived in the U.S. he stayed with a Jamaican family in Harlem. He found work as a printer and saved enough money to begin a fundraising tour throughout the United States. Garvey's whirlwind tour began in Harlem and proceeded through thirty-eight states. Harlem had recently become converted into the Black section of New York City and the virtual capital of the Black world. So when he returned to New York he chose to set up his headquarters there. Garvey moved into the center on Harlem stage with all the ease and self-confidence of a man with a mission. He took to the streets, joining the soapbox and stepladder orators and form political alliances with some of Harlem's most prominent radicals.

Garvey's first two attempts to establish a New York chapter of the U.N.I.A. with headquarters in Jamaica were sabotaged by socialists and Republicans who wanted to turn it into a political club. In his third attempt he had formed a cadre of thirteen like minded souls. This one too had its divisions but Garvey was able to weather the storm. And when Garvey decided to stay in the United States the U.N.I.A. was incorporated in the state of New York on July 2, 1918.

Be careful to distinguish your words from others' words. Changing a couple of words in the original text does not "make it yours."

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updated February 4, 2002