School papers, Essays, Dissertations/plagiarism

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Question
Mr Smith,

What exactly constitutes plagiarism? I'm writing a paper for my Poli Sci class, and our instructor told us that any paper containing plagiarism would be graded as an F and the writer could face expulsion. I ran my first draft through a free plagiarism checker, and most of what it highlighted was text that I had already cited. However, the program highlighted a few sentences here and there as being plagiarized when they were actually things that I wrote on my own. For example, this sentence:


"After the formation of the Israeli state partitioned by the British government in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes."


The part of the sentence after the comma was flagged as being lifted from an article that I had never read. Is it necessary to go through a paper with a fine-toothed comb to ensure than no sentence (or partial sentence) has ever appeared in an article before? I liked the wording of my sentence. Every re-wording I came up with sounded clunky. Is that plagiarism? Any papers that get flagged by our school's Plagiarism Checker will be submitted to a review board. I really don't want that, but neither do I want to spend time trying to rephrase things when it honestly seems silly to do so. I have read that unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism, but isn't what I wrote considered "general information?" I have not been able to find an answer to this particular question, just mainly common-sense stuff like "don't turn in someone else's paper" or "don't claim someone else's idea as your own." I don't want to kicked out the second week of classes! (the first draft is due the 19th) Thank you for your help.

Katie

Answer
I thought I answered this. Plagiarism is using the work or ideas of others without giving credit for them. Of course, it is entirely possible that you or I would write something very similar to what someone else has already written. There are, after all, only so many ways to say the same thing. I understand.

That said, the safest thing for you to do in submitting this paper is to put the identical phrases in quotation marks and cite the published source. If it's only an occasional sentence, I doubt you would be gigged, but to be safe make the citation.

Hope this helps.

And sorry for the delay.

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Dan Smith

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I have been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years, taught speech and English composition at the university level, and have developed speech and English composition courses and seminars for businesses. I am experienced in editing a wide variety of materials, especially business, scientific, and other academic papers. I am familiar with all the major style guides.

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I have edited any number of graduate papers and other technical materials in such advanced fields as civil and electrical engineering and semiconductor fabrication. I have extensive experience in working with non-native English speakers.

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