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When Do We Cross the Line into Plagiarism?

While there are gray areas, there are also black-and-white guidelines.

Collin Hansen

Anyone looking to learn official, academic, consensus definitions for plagiarism can find them in a couple mouse clicks. And that's just the problem. A couple clicks can get you a lot these days. Plagiarizing papers, talks, and even sermons has never been easier. Mere definitions don't deter desperate writers and speakers who are either too lazy or so overwhelmed with life that they lift someone else's words, ideas, and outlines.

Studying journalism and history in college, I learned again and again about the evils of plagiarism. If I were caught plagiarizing, I risked expulsion from school or at least a failing grade for the course. If a boss found me plagiarizing my research, professors warned me, I would be fired on the spot. Indeed, many professionals have ruined their careers by stealing someone's political speech or academic thesis and calling it their own.

You can imagine how I responded during my first job out of college when I discovered that one well-known evangelical ...

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Displaying 1–5 of 11 comments

Jeff Mckearney

February 17, 2014  11:22am

Much Originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching-Charles Spurgeon

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Marshall Shelley

September 17, 2012  10:47am

Yes, Virginia. There is originality in sermons, as surely as the goat has left the building, payday someday, and footprints in the sand. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, if they can make an honest effort to recall where the idea originated.

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Edwin Robinson

February 24, 2011  9:00am

I do recall a colleague who vigorously asserted, "All of my stuff is good and original." Then he sheepishly added, "The stuff that's original is not good, and the stuff that's good is not original." Just give the credit and especially if asked.

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Gary Brumbelow

February 23, 2011  4:13pm

Years ago my wife and I visited a church and I was stunned to hear the pastor preach an entire chapter out of Alan Redpath's book on Joshua, without attribution. Before he came to our home for a get acquainted visit, I put the book on the coffee table. "Interesting!" was his only comment when he saw it. We did not attend his church again. I know this happens, maybe much more than we realize. But that doesn't justify it. Thanks for a helpful treatment of the subject.

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Marla Abe

February 22, 2011  10:02am

What is the correct way to use your illustrations? I always note that they are quotes, and I keep the citations and where they were found in my notes, but I don't always stop the flow of the sermon by saying, "That story was published by _________ in __________. Is that enough??

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