What is plagiarism?

The word plagiarism is derived from the Latin plagiarus, or "kidnapper." In the English language, plagiarism refers to the intentional or unintentional act of using other people's ideas, words, or work without providing documentation.

As you know, every word-for-word quote is placed in quotation marks, and its origin is clearly acknowledged in a footnote or reference. Failure to provide such documentation constitutes plagiarism.

Additionally, lifting another person's ideas without acknowledging the source also constitutes plagiarism. Ideas originating outside of yourself, even when paraphrased or summarized in your own words, require explicit documentation. Failure to provide such documentation constitutes plagiarism.

Related acts of academic dishonesty include submitting under your own name papers borrowed, purchased, or stolen; and submitting a paper for which you have already received credit in a different course.

The following websites offer excellent guidelines as to what constitutes plagiarism, and how to avoid it:

Why avoid plagiarism?

Plagiarism is one of the very worst acts of academic dishonesty. Those found guilty of plagiarism risk a "zero" for the assignment on which they have plagiarized, possible failure of the class, and potential expulsion from school. Plagiarism in the professional world may result in the termination of one's employment.

As important as the penalties one risks is the principle involved: plagiarism is dishonest. Purchasing or downloading papers, handing in other people's work, failing to provide documentation and/or failing to place quotation marks around quotes - all these are efforts to cheat. Their objective is to receive credit for work that is not one's own, and those found guilty of such practices deserve the harshest penalty available. The penalties for unintentional plagiarism are the same as those for intentional plagiarism. As some plagiarists claim they "didn't know" a dishonest practice they engaged in was plagiarism, we have listed below some common sense measures to help you recognize and avoid plagiarism.

How to avoid plagiarism

  1. Play it safe: until you develop a clear sense on what does and what does not require a reference or footnote (basic rules are listed below) air on the side of over-documentation: in your first draft, provide more rather than less documentation, and ask your professor which of your footnotes/references are necessary, and which are not.
  2. All word-for-word quotes are placed in quotation marks and receive full documentation, either in the form of an in-text parenthetical reference (for those using MLA) or a footnote (for Chicago). This is a non-negotiable rule. (See Basic Quoting Skills.)
  3. If you paraphrase or summarize another person's ideas, interpretations, or arguments, you must provide documentation identifying your source, either in the form of a reference (for MLA) or a footnote (for Chicago). Basic rule of thumb: if an idea didn't come out of your head, it requires documentation.
  4. The only material not originating with you that does not require documentation is generally-known information. Generally known facts of information are facts listed in multiple sources without further documentation, such as the facts that FDR was elected president in 1932; that Hitler assumed power in 1933; that both ruled their respective countries until 1945; that World War II lasted from 1939 - 1945, etc. Such basic and generally-known facts need not be documented.

For further information on what does, and what does not require documentation, on plagiarism in general, and on how to avoid it, we again recommend the following websites: