Guide to writing history essays


Plagiarism and Paraphrasing



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2. Plagiarism and Paraphrasing
2.1 Paraphrasing means rephrasing another author’s arguments or findings in your own words: as such, it is a common element of historical research. The obvious danger here is if a passage from a source is paraphrased too closely, such as with only a word changed here and there—this also constitutes plagiarism. When you paraphrase, be sure you are not just rearranging or replacing a few words. Instead, read over carefully the passage in the original that you want to paraphrase and then write out what you think it means, using your own words. If you feel that any phrases or sentences from the original are so precise and to the point that you cannot think of a better way to put the idea, consider using it as a quotation.
2.2 Correct paraphrasing is something which students often wonder about. Here is an example of an original source, followed by three versions of how it might be paraphrased in an essay: the first two constitute plagiarism, the third is acceptable paraphrasing.
Original source. J. M. Roberts, History of the World (New York, 1976), p. 845.
The joker in the European pack was Italy. For a time, hopes were entertained of her as a force against Germany, but these disappeared under Mussolini. In 1935 Italy made a belated attempt to participate in the scramble for Africa by invading Ethiopia. It was clearly a breach of the Covenant of the League of Nations for one of its members to attack another. France and Great Britain, the Mediterranean powers, and the African powers were bound to take the lead against Italy at the League. But they did so feebly and half-heartedly because they did not want to alienate a possible ally against Germany. The result was the worst possible: the League failed to check aggression, Ethiopia lost her independence, and Italy was alienated after all.
Version A. Plagiarism. Entire phrases are taken from the source without footnoting.
Italy, one might say, was the joker in the European deck. When she invaded Ethiopia, it was clearly a breach of the Covenant of the League of Nations, yet the efforts of England and France to take the lead against her were feeble and half-hearted. It appears that those great powers had no wish to alienate a possible ally against Hitler’s rearmed Germany.
Version B. Plagiarism. Exact words from the original are still not given as quotes.
Italy was the joker in the European deck. Under Mussolini in 1935, she made a belated attempt to participate in the scramble for Africa by invading Ethiopia. As J.M. Roberts points out, this violated the Covenant of the League of Nations.1 But France and Britain, not wanting to alienate a possible ally against Germany, put up only feeble and half-hearted opposition to the Ethiopian adventure. The outcome, Roberts observes, was the worst possible: ‘the League failed to check aggression, Ethiopia lost her independence, and Italy was alienated after all’.2
1 J. M. Roberts, History of the World (New York, 1976), p. 845.

2 Ibid.
Version C. Acceptable. Writer is incorporating elements from the source material as part of his/her own argument, not merely rephrasing the original. Direct quotes are footnoted.
Germany’s dominance within Europe during the 1930s was by no means a foregone conclusion, for the balance of power might just as easily have been tipped against Hitler if Fascist Italy had not gravitated towards an alliance with Berlin. Such an alliance was not inevitable; the British and French governments both muted their criticism of Mussolini’s Ethiopian invasion in the hope of remaining friends with Italy. They opposed the Italians in the League of Nations, as J.M. Roberts observes, ‘feebly and half-heartedly because they did not want to alienate a possible ally against Germany’.1 It is possible to imagine alternative circumstances where Italy, France, and Britain retained a common interest in preserving stability in Europe, despite ideological differences, and so jointly restrained Hitler from his diplomatic adventures of the later 1930s.
1 J. M. Roberts, History of the World (New York, 1976), p. 845.



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