What is Plagiarism?

1. Definitions of Plagiarism

a. "Plagiarism is the academic and literary equivalent of robbery,
taking somebody else's property. If you copy somebody's test
answers, take an essay from a magazine and pass it off as your
own, lift a well-phrased sentence or two and include them without
crediting the author or using quotation marks, or even pass off
somebody's good ideas as examples of your own genius, you are
guilty of intellectual thievery. If you are caught you should
expect punishment or contempt or both." Quote from Robert M.
Gorrell and Charlton Laid, Modern English Handbook, 6th edition
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976), p. 71.

b. Plagiarism covers unpublished as well as published sources;
borrowing another's term paper, handing in as one's own work a
paper purchased from an individual or agency, or submitting as
one's own papers from living group, club, or organization files;
all are punishable as plagiarism.

2. Avoidance of plagiarism: "Acknowledge indebtedness ":

a. whenever you quote another person's actual words;
b. whenever you see another person's idea, opinion, or theory, even
if it is completely paraphrased in your own words; and
c. whenever you borrow facts, statistics, or other illustrative
material-unless the information is common knowledge." William W.
Watt, An American Rhetoric, 4th edition (New York: Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, Inc., 1970) p. 8.

3. The form and standard for attribution and acknowledgment of
literary indebtedness is set by each discipline. Students should
consult with their department or with recognized handbooks in
their field if in doubt.

4. The ethical standards outlined in the above definition of
plagiarism and suggestions for its avoidance govern all
relationships in academe. Hence, the guidelines apply to faculty
and research assistants in their possible use of students' and
colleagues' research and ideas, as well as to student use of
source materials and authorities and student use of other
students' ideas and work.

- From Appendix F: Academic Conduct, Academic Honesty,
and Student Grievance Procedures in the Kansas State
University Faculty Handbook
(FSM 4-11-89, 10-10-89) at http://www-personal.ksu.edu/~lyman/english320/honesty-FH.htm

2. Definitions of Plagiarism

3.1 Plagiarism
Plagiarism is passing off a source's information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them, an act of lying, cheating, and stealing. Plagiarus means kidnapper, in Latin, because in antiquity plagiarii were pirates who sometimes stole children: when you plagiarize, as several commentators have observed, you steal the brain child of another. But since you also claim that it's your own brain child, and use it to get credit for work you haven't really done, you also lie and cheat. You cheat your source of fair recognition for his or her efforts, and you cheat the students who have completed the same assignment without plagiarizing.

Incidents of plagiarism vary in seriousness and in circumstance. Occasionally, a student is truly confused about the rules of acknowledgement, or obliviously incorporates a few vivid phrases from a source. And occasionally, at the other end of the scale, a student calmly plagiarizes a whole paper because he or she simply doesn't care about a course, or is unwilling to give it any time. Most often, however, the plagiarist has started out with good intentions but hasn't left enough time to do the reading and thinking that the assignment requires, has become desperate, and just wants the whole thing done with. At this point, in one common scenario, the student gets careless while taking notes on a source or incorporating notes into a draft, so the source' s words and ideas blur into those of the student, who has neither the time nor the inclination to resist the blurring. In another scenario, the student simply panics and plagiarizes from a secondary source or from another student copying from the source directly or slightly rephrasing hoping to get away with it just this one time.

Plagiarism can occur on any kind of assignment, from a two-page problem set or response paper to a 20-page research paper. More common than wholesale copying, especially in longer papers, is piecemeal or mosaic plagiarism, in which a student mixes words or ideas of a source (unacknowledged) in with his or her own words and ideas, or mixes together uncited words and ideas from several sources into a pastiche, or mixes together properly-cited uses of a source with uncited uses. But at any point in any paper, plagiarism usually takes one of these forms:

(a) An uncited idea: In the first paragraph on the preceding page, the fact that the Latin root of the word "plagiarism" is plagiarus or kidnapper is knowledge commonly available in dictionaries, so it doesn't need citing. The move from this fact to plagiarism as stealing a brain child is a distinctive idea, and (unless it's your own idea) it does need citing. And if, having read that paragraph on the preceding page, you write in an essay of your own about plagiarism in Ivy League colleges that "etymologically, plagiarizing involves taking the brain child of another" and that "plagiarism involves the dastardly trio of lying, cheating, and stealing," you plagiarize an idea in both cases, if you don't cite this booklet even though your language differs from that of your source.

(b) An uncited structure or organizing strategy: If, having read the second paragraph on the previous page, you break down your own analysis of plagiarism into (a) patch plagiarizing out of ignorance of the rules or obliviousness, (b) wholesale plagiarizing out of indifference or laziness, and (c) plagiarizing in a time-panic, and then you say that those who plagiarize in a time-panic do so either by (1) careless note-taking or (2) deliberate copying, you are plagiarizing a distinctive intellectual structure or way of proceeding with a topic, even though the language of your own discussion differs from that of the booklet.

(c) Uncited information or data from a source: If, in your essay on plagiarism, you observe that Harvard College acted on 25 cases of academic dishonesty in 1993-94, and you don't cite this booklet or the User's Guide to the Administrative Board, you are plagiarizing information. Commonly plagiarized kinds of information include details of a topic's historical background or accounts (in secondary sources) of previous work done on the topic.

(d) A verbatim phrase or passage that isn't quoted: If, in your essay on plagiarism, after reading the second paragraph on the previous page, you observe that "at a certain point in the writing process the student has neither the time nor the inclination to resist the blurring of his source's words into his own" but don't use quotation marks at least for the words in the middle of the sentence, you are plagiarizing even if you do cite the booklet. You may fix on certain words in a source as more striking or apt than those around them, but this is all the more reason to give credit for the words by quoting.

If your own sentences follow the source so closely in idea and sentence structure that the result is really closer to quotation than to paraphrase (as in the hypothetical sentence in [d] above), you are plagiarizing, even if you have cited the source. You may not simply alter a few words of your source, even of an abstract you read for a literature review. You need to recast your summary into your own words and sentence structure, or quote directly.

3.2 Other Ways of Misusing Sources

(a) Misrepresenting Evidence: When you have an idea or interpretation that you wish to be true, especially when the assignment is due in a few days or hours, you may be tempted to fudge your evidence to make it seem true. You may be tempted, for example, to ignore evidence that you know doesn't fit your interpretation, in which case you are simply betraying your own intelligence. But you may also be tempted into more serious misuses: quoting a source out of context or in misleading excerpts, so it seems to say what you want; or claiming that a source says something it doesn't; or, even more seriously, altering or fabricating a source or some data. Since these misuses violate the basic principle of academic inquiry (valid reasoning based on true evidence), and may suggest an inclination to commit similar errors in later life, serious abuses will result in serious action by the course, department, or Administrative Board.

(b) Improper Collaboration: This occurs when two students submit more or less identical written work for an assignment on which they have worked together. Collaborative discussion and brainstorming is a vital activity of professional scholars, especially in the sciences; but these scholars not only acknowledge in each completed article the contribution of other discussants, but write the article on their own or else submit a single article under two or more names. When you are asked to collaborate on a project but required to submit separate papers, you must write up your paper on your own, acknowledging the extent of your collaboration in a note.

You and your partner should not compose the report or exam answer as you sit together, but only take notes. If you divide up aspects of the assignment (assuming the instructor permits this) you should not write up your aspect for your partner, but bring your notes to your meeting. And you should discuss each other's notes, not just photocopy them. Finally, beware of letting your partner read over your finished report at the last minute in a panic, especially if you have put in most of the work on the project; you may be tempting your partner to plagiarize. Professional scholars do ask one another to read drafts; but in these cases only one paper is being produced, not two. If you're unsure about your instructor's policy on collaboration, ask.

(c) Dual Submission: Harvard's policy on this matter is spelled out in the Handbook for Students:

It is the expectation of every course that all work submitted to it will have been done solely for that course. If the same or similar work is submitted to any other course, the prior written permission of the instructor must be obtained. If the same or similar work is submitted to more than one course during the same term, the prior written permission of all instructors involved must be obtained . . . .3

Don't take it upon yourself to decide, without consulting your instructor, that work you plan to submit for a course, though in many places identical to work you turned in for another course, is "different enough" by virtue of small changes you have made, or an added section, or an altered introduction or conclusion. And don't, when you are running late and need to submit a paper, simply submit a version of the paper you submitted for another course. . . .

(d) Abetting Plagiarism: You are also guilty of misusing sources if you knowingly help another student plagiarize, whether by letting the student copy your own paper, or by selling the student a paper of yours or somebody else's, or by writing a paper or part of a paper for the student: as, for example, when in the course of "editing" a paper for another student you go beyond correcting mechanical errors and begin redrafting significant amounts of the paper. Any of these actions makes you liable to disciplinary action by the College. (If another student asks you for help with a paper, try whenever possible to phrase your comments as questions that will draw out the student's own ideas.)

- Extract from WRITING WITH SOURCES: A Guide for Harvard Students, by Gordon Harvey, Expository Writing Program, Copyright 1995, The President and Fellows of Harvard University Chapter Three: Misuse of Sources: 3.1 Plagiarism and 3.2 Other Ways of Misusing Sources

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August 2, 1999


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