A guide to what it is and how to avoid it.
What is plagiarism?
From the Student Handbook: “The act of presenting the information, ideas, or phrasing of another as if they were one’s own. Such an act is plagiarism whether by ignorance of proper scholarly procedures, failure to observe them, or deliberate intent to deceive.” Acts of plagiarism violate the College Honor System.
When do you need documentation?
For all statements of fact, opinions, ideas, statistics, allegations, etc., to which you, as author, have no exclusive claim by right of discovery or invention. The form of the citation should follow the documentation style requested by your professor (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.). If you do not understand how to format documentation properly, consult your professor or a tutor in the Writing Center.
Some forms of plagiarism.
- Presenting a paper written by someone else as your own work.
- Using material paraphrased (“put into your own words”) or directly quoted from a source without citing that source. The citation must be in the text and indicate the location and extent of the material taken from the source; a bibliography entry alone will not suffice.
- Using the exact words of a source without using quotation marks to indicate a direct quotation. This remains plagiarism even if the material is properly cited through footnotes or parenthetical citation.
- Reproducing the style, organizational structure, or wording of a source, even if that source is properly cited; central to avoiding this error is the practice of proper paraphrasing.
- Allowing another individual to substantially revise, rewrite, or edit your work. You may consult with the Writing Center for assistance; they are trained to help you edit your own work and will not edit or revise your work for you.
- Plagiarism is not limited to these specific examples; consult the larger definition. When in doubt, consult your instructor.
What if you and a source independently reach the same conclusion or have the same idea?
You may claim the idea or conclusion as your own, but you must also include a reference indicating that this same conclusion or idea is found in your sources.
What information can be included without using a citation?
You do not have to cite any information that can be considered any part of the whole body of general knowledge shared by the educated public. Rule of thumb: consider yourself a member of the “educated public.” If you did not know the information before you did the research, you should seriously consider citing it. However, use discretion; do not footnote anything that is simply an easily verifiable fact. For example, you might not have known that Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, but it would be considered a fact that is part of the “body of general knowledge” and would not need to be cited. When in doubt, consult your instructor.
Misrepresentation of sources.
If you attribute any fact, opinion, statistic, etc., to a source when in fact that source does not contain such information, you are guilty of intellectual dishonesty in a way that is just as serious as using another’s work without proper attribution. You must paraphrase accurately and fairly; you must quote exactly and indicate any alteration of a quotation.
Penalties for plagiarism.
Professors are required to report plagiarism when they suspect it and sanctions for plagiarism can include an F on an assignment or in a class, suspension, or expulsion. Each professor sets penalties that are appropriate to the offense and are in accord with the college’s Honor System. Penalties for first offenses are determined by the professor and reported to the Dean of Student Life; a student may request a hearing if there is a dispute over the violation or the penalty. Second offenses automatically result in a hearing before the Honor Council.
Links for further information:
- University of Indiana’s Statement on Plagiarism has some good, clear examples of what constitutes plagiarism.
- Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab includes some checklists and exercises for avoiding plagiarism.
- Northwestern University’s Plagiarism Page has clear explanations of different situations in which documentation is necessary.