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Academic Integrity: Plagiarism


 Plagiarism means claiming as your own ideas, words, data, computer programs, creative compositions, artwork, etc., done by someone else. Examples include improper citation of referenced works, the use of commercially available scholarly papers, failure to cite sources, or copying another person’s ideas.  It is a form of cheating.

Plagiarism includes:

  • Partially cited sources that don't include all the needed information (the author's name is included, but not the page number)
  • Inaccurate citation information (the wrong name or publication title is used)
  • Verbatim quotations that are cited but not put in quotation marks
  • Perfectly cited sources with little or no original work from the author in the final paper
  • Failing to cite paraphrased quotes in between direct quotes, thereby indicating the paraphrases are original ideas

You do not have to cite something if it's common knowledge. Common knowledge is something most readers would already know or something that could be easily found in general reference sources, like encyclopedias.

The earth is round = common knowledge
The earth has about 197 million square miles of total surface area = NOT common knowledge

Plagiarism Scenarios

1 of 5

You’re in a class that assigns papers that are surprisingly similar to a course you took a couple of semesters ago. Without talking to your professor first, you submit several papers from your previous course after adding a few sentences and correcting a few errors you missed the first time (whoops!). You figure you worked hard on the papers the first time, so why not get some more use out of them? Is this wrong to do?

Yes. Although you originally authored the paper, you did not create this assignment for this particular course and you must, therefore, cite yourself. This would be an example of self-plagiarism.

2 of 5

You want to use this section from King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail":

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

You decide to put it in your own words for the paper:

Sometimes it’s clear that a law is fair and justified on its surface and unfair and unjustified in its application. For example, he was arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. And it’s clear that there is nothing wrong with having a law that makes a citizen get a permit for a parade. But such a permit law becomes unfair when it is used to enforce segregation and to keep citizens from exercising their First-Amendment rights of peaceful assembly and protest.

Is this plagiarism?

Yes, this is an example of mosaic plagiarism. You did not re-word the direct quote enough for it to be a paraphrase, or a rewording, of this text. Instead, you have replaced a few choice words and phrases and attempted to pass off this quote as your own. You could fix this by either quoting and citing the passage or paraphrasing and citing it. Or, you could combine a paraphrase with a direct quote, putting quotation marks around the direct quote, and then citing it.


3 of 5

You are writing a biology report and you have included information that you read in your biology textbook. You aren't sure if this information can be considered common knowledge or whether you need to cite it. What should you do?

When in doubt, ask your professor. It is correct that common knowledge does not need to be cited. For example, the fact that the earth is round, or that Saturn is one of the planets in our solar system, does not need to be cited. However, the mass of the earth or the mineral composition of Saturn would need to be cited because these items are not common knowledge. If you are ever confused or hesitant on what should be cited or not, ask your professor or one of your librarians.  


4 of 5

You found an (in) famous quote to use in your paper. It is well-known and the point of origin is unclear, so you find another professional in that field to credit the quote to. You have no idea who the quote actually belongs to but you figure since it is so common and since the original owner is unclear, citing the quote incorrectly is your best approach. Is this wrong?

Yes. As a researcher, there will be countless times where you will not know exactly who said or wrote a particular quote, and many of the citation styles take this into account. Talk to your librarian about finding the original source of the quote. This, rather than fabricating a name to attribute this quote to, would be the appropriate action for this scenario.

5 of 5

Your sister took English 102 a couple of semesters before you. You share many interests, so it’s no surprise when you decide to write your final paper on a similar topic as she did. She gives you her final paper to look at, and you decide to incorporate in your paper many of her quotations and statistics. You copy her citations in your own works cited page without looking at the original sources she used. Is this wrong to do?

Yes. There are a multitude of issues here. The first is that you have plagiarized. You have effectively claimed your sister's work “as your own, ideas, words, data…” Also, you have not checked the citations to ensure that they are, in fact, correct.  


Discussion Questions

These questions offer a great way to discuss issues of plagiarism. You can review them as a class, or students can discuss them in groups.


You’re excited when your English teacher encourages students to choose topics related to their majors. You took an introductory class in your major last semester and are able to incorporate what you learned right into one of your papers. You don’t cite the information, since you’ve long since internalized it and don’t have a textbook or lecture notes to reference anyway.

You had to write a book report on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for an English class. After completing the draft of your report, you discuss your ideas with a relative who teaches literature at a different university. The relative gives you feedback that alters your view of thematic events in the novel. You rewrite your paper and submit the final version to your professor, but you do not state where your interpretation of the book’s thematic events originated. After reading your paper, your professor suspects you have plagiarized and will not accept your paper.  Did you commit academic dishonesty? If so, what can you do differently in the future?

You are taking a class that involves writing an essay on Kant. Your professor has recommended a particular book chapter as a secondary source on Kant's ideas about war and peace. You read this chapter and find a quote that looks like it speaks to Kant's idea of perpetual peace, but you don't really understand what the quotation means. You think of approaching your professor to ask for help but decide that she will think less of you for not grasping the text. Instead you find a website that summarizes the chapter, and you use that to explain your quote. You don't cite this website because you are explaining how the website explains the chapter. Is this plagiarism?


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