You probably know that turning in someone else’s research
paper as your own work is plagiarism of the worst kind. But
do you really understand what is plagiarism and what isn’t?
Are you comfortable that you understand
when to
document (cite) sources and when it’s okay not to do? Do
you know what criteria to use? Most problems related to
plagiarism arise in college writing because students lack
clear and confident answers to these questions – and not
because students want to cheat the system. In this lesson,
we’ll define plagiarism, explore the ethical and community
standards for writing in an academic environment.
• The Internet makes it easy to copy and download material
and paste it into a paper – which in itself is not a problem
unless the writer fails to acknowledge the source with an
in-text citation of some sort and a bibliography entry at the
back of the paper.
• First, develop personal notes full of your own ideas on a
topic. Discover how you feel about the issue. Then, rather
than copy sources one after another onto your pages of
text, try to express your own ideas while synthesizing the
ideas of the authorities by using summary, paraphrase, or
direct quotation. Rethink and reconsider ideas gathered
during your reading, make meaningful connections, and,
when you refer to the ideas or exact words of a source – as
you inevitably will – give the other writer full credit.
• Plagiarism is offering the words or ideas of another person
as one’s own. Major violations, which can bring failure in
the course or expulsion from the college, are:
• The use of another student’s work
• The purchase of a canned research paper
• Copying whole passages into a paper without
• Copying a key, well-worded phrase into a paper without
• Putting specific ideas of others into your own words
without documentation
• These instances reflect a deliberate attempt on the part of the writer to
deceive. Closely related, but not technically plagiarism, is to fabricate
information knowingly – that is, just make it up off the top of your
head. Some news reporters have lost their jobs because of fabrication.
In addition, a gray area of plagiarism exists: errors caused by
carelessness. For example:
• The writer fails to enclose quoted material within quotation marks, yet
he or she provides an in-text citation with name and page number.
• The writer’s paraphrase never quite becomes paraphrase – too much of
the original is left intact – but he or she provides a full citation to name
and page.
• In these situations, instructors must step in and help the
beginning researcher, for although these case are not
flagrant instances of plagiarism, they can maran otherwise
fine piece of research. What’s more, double standards
exist. Magazine writers and newspaper reporters offer
citations to quotations and paraphrases that seldom show
academic documentation. For example, the magazine
might say:
Randall Hicks, in his essay “ A Lesson for the
Future,” says “young people’s ability to think about
the future is not very well developed and their images
tend to be pessimistic.”
• That’s it – no page number and no bibliography at the end
of the magazine article. The magazine citation gives
minimal information, but usually enough that a reader
could go in search of the full essay by Hicks.
• However, as a academic writer, you must document fully
any borrowed ideas and words. The academic citation –
author, page number, and bibliography entry – establihes
two things beyond your reliability and credibility:
• 1. A clear trail for other researchers to follow if they also
want to consult the source
• 2. Information for other researchers who might need to
replicate (reproduce) the project
• When you provide an academic citation, you’ve made it
clear who you’ve read, how you used it in your paper, and
where others can find it.
• Even then, scholarly documentation differs from field to
field – that is, literary papers are written in a different style
from a scientific paper. In the social sciences, a paraphrase
does not require a page number. In the applied sciences, a
number replaces the authority’s name, the year, and even
the page number. So you will find that standards shift
considerably as you move from class to class from
discipline to discipline. The good writer learns to adapt to
the changes in the academic standards.