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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2012
Avoiding the Nightmare & Worry of Plagiarism
Richard Bromfield, PhD, Harvard Medical School (MA)

Like much in human psychology, plagiarism is a funny thing, full of paradox and contradiction. A majority of students judge it to be wrong and a form of cheating. Yet, despite this moral awareness and their dread of failure or expulsion, plagiarism remains an ever present threat, risk, and temptation. How can we account for this?

Some suggest that cheating and plagiarism are such a visible part of modern society that they inevitably pervade the culture and life of a university. This might be true. However, there may be an alternative explanation. Most students do not wish to cheat and want no part of academic trouble or misdeed. Their flirtations with plagiaristic misdeeds may stem from misunderstanding and confusion as to why and how one properly cites and references when writing essays, research papers, and theses.

Many students begin their writing missions with a noble and clear determination to write a paper that is honestly their own, but then, harsh reality sets in. They encounter a web site that doesn’t seem to fit their criterion for citation. They find that someone else already said what they, the students, thought were their own ideas. They reread what they’ve written and find that it seems so boring and repetitive that they cannot bear to stick with their own writing. As the hour grows late and exhaustion sets in, or other work waits, students’ resolve and resourcefulness wane. Discouraged or no longer caring, they give up, settle for indecision, and let their citing or referencing slide. "Who cares,” that devilish little guy on their shoulder urges, and; "what difference does it make?” So the students submit something they do not feel confident about, hoping not to be accused of plagiarism.

You do not need to suffer such agony, hardship, frustration, and possibly the tough consequences of plagiarism. All that is required is some clarity regarding proper academic citation. Remember, American Psychology Association (APA) style has a purpose; it was not devised as a modern form of torture.

The purpose of APA style is to give credit where credit is due. It is really not so complex or obscure. Take this example from a recent book on introverts by Susan Cain.

She writes, "Heritability statistics derived from twin studies show that introversionextroversion is only 40 to 50 percent heritable” (Cain, 2012, p. 108). Consider the many ways in which you can refer to Cain’s sentence and idea:

  • Cain says, "introversion- extroversion is only 40 to 50 percent heritable” (2012, p. 108).
  • in 2012, Cain suggested that whether an individual is introverted or extroverted is "only 40 to 50 percent heritable” (p. 108).
  • A person's tendency to be introverted or extroverted cannot wholly be explained by genetics (Cain, 2012).
  • Heredity, so clains Susan Cain (2012), probably accounts for no more than half of any one child’s being introverted or extroverted.
  • Is introversion perfectly determined by genetics? Not at all, according to Susan Cain and the findings of twin studies (2012).

The possibilities are endless.

It is up to you whether you state it as Cain claims, says, writes, proposes, hypothesizes, wonders, assumes, thinks, etc. You can mention Cain at the beginning of the sentence, in the middle, or at the end. You can use her exact words, or use your own. You, as the writer, can state it almost any way you choose in order to best make your argument and express your own genuine voice. All you need to do is give credit to the original scholar or writer by quoting exact statements or paraphrasing (i.e., putting into your own words) those same ideas. All that matters is that you give Cain the credit and make clear which words are precisely hers and which are yours. It is that easy and direct.

By understanding why you cite, you will find yourself free and flexible to write papers that are accurate and APA approved. Most of all you will be able to express yourself in ways that are interesting, engaging, and convincing. And, not to be dismissed, accurate citation will allow you to feel proud of your work and to sleep well after it is done.


Bromfield, R. (2011). How to cite APA [style]- 6th in psychology, social work, education, and the social sciences. Chestnut Hill, MA: Basil.

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. NY, New York: Crown.

Richard Bromfield, PhD, is a psychologist on the clinical faculty of Harvard Medical School. He is author of several books for clinicians and parents, including: Doing Therapy With Children and Adolescents With Asperger Syndrome; Teens in Therapy; Embracing Asperger’s; and, How to Cite APA [Style]–6th in Psychology Social Work, Education, and the Social Sciences.

Copyright 2012 (Volume 17, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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