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Plagiarism Primer

What Is Plagiarism?

Simply put, plagiarism is the act of taking someone else's words or ideas and presenting them as your own. A writer plagiarizes when he or she turns in a paper that contains passages or important ideas written by someone else and doesn't give credit to the original author. It is a form of academic dishonesty that is often equated to intellectual theft, whether intentional or unintentional.

At Hope, we see a difference between these two kinds of plagiarism. The rules for quoting and citing material in college-level work are fairly complicated, and students new to this work can sometimes make mistakes that technically result in plagiarism. We call this unintentional plagiarism, and although it is serious, almost always professors will give you a chance to remedy the problem and learn from your mistakes. But there's a more serious kind of plagiarism that involves a deliberate effort to cheat. Intentional plagiarism is a flagrant attempt to take the easy way out of an assignment by presenting a whole assignment or parts of one that were written by someone else, and not telling where the material came from.

Some examples of plagiarism:

  • Cutting and pasting material from the Internet into your paper without citing your sources.
  • Making minor changes to an existing source but not transforming it sufficiently into your own words.
  • Taking paragraphs or sentences from articles, books, or other sources of information and including them in your paper without providing proper citations.
  • Taking important ideas from sources and including them in your paper as if you thought them up.
  • Letting someone else (a friend, classmate, parent, etc.) write parts of your paper for you.
  • Buying a paper from a commercial source and submitting it as your own, or taking a paper from a classmate, friend, fraternity or sorority sibling, or anyone else and submitting it as if you wrote it.
  • Submitting a drawing, painting, musical composition, computer code, or any other kind of material created originally by someone else, and claiming or implying that you created it yourself.
  • Turning in the same paper for more than one assignment.

Why Plagiarism Matters

Professors assign papers to provide opportunities to deepen and enrich learning in a course. When you write a paper, you go beyond what has been said in the textbook or in the classroom and make the learning your own.

With plagiarism, you miss the chance to learn how to integrate your ideas in with those of other researchers. A primary purpose of higher education is to guide students in becoming independent, original thinkers. Creative and critical thought are subverted when a student plagiarizes.

Harming trust between faculty and students

Students need to be able to trust their professors. They need confidence that professors are up-to-date in the information they present, accurate in their portrayal of texts and theories, and reliably fair in their evaluation of students' work.

Likewise, professors need to trust their students. They have to have confidence in the truthfulness of students' statements in class, the honesty of their efforts to learn, and their trustworthiness in the papers and projects submitted for grading. Plagiarism erodes this confidence and damages the atmosphere in which genuine learning takes place.

Being unfair to classmates

A paper assignment requires all members of a class to do a significant amount of work. When one person plagiarizes, classmates who do honest work can feel betrayed and angry.

Causing a communication breakdown

Did you know that academic writing is a conversation between experts? When you write an academic paper you are participating in this conversation. When you do not cite sources accurately you are creating miscommunications or "missed" communications. Ideas then can't flow clearly from your sources to your readers.

In some cultures, it is considered respectful to copy the words of experts in a given field, as students are taught that their professions will know these sources as general knowledge. In the United States, citation is treated much more strictly. Unless a fact or idea is broadly known (Ex: The sun rises in the East and sets in the West), you should fully cite it.

Subverting values central to a Hope College education

Hope's official statements about itself emphasize the moral and ethical dimensions of our community. Our Catalog includes these descriptions:

  • "Focus on educating persons to be critical thinkers in a Christian liberal arts context with emphasis on the techniques of analysis; the ethical implications of social interaction; the development of intellectual virtues." (pp 49)
  • "The development of habits of mind appropriate to the continuing efforts of faith seeking understanding of all things, including self-intellectual virtues appropriate to such 'spiritual inquiry' include courage, humility, patience, respect, honesty, reverence, awe, care, love of truth, and hope" (pp 49)

These and many other descriptions of the Hope community make clear that the fair, just, honest relationships among students and between students and professors is essential for our work together.

Ethical uses of information and honesty in writing matter throughout one's lifetime

The fair use of information and the honest presentation of one's self are important responsibilities for career and citizenship. Good habits students develop in college prepare them for the kinds of writing and speaking they will do throughout a lifetime. Honesty and fairness cannot be compartmentalized as character traits to be practiced later, "when it really matters." If a writer plagiarizes in college, is it realistic to expect that he or she won't do so later? Plagiarism at work can lead to professional disgrace, loss of position, and lawsuits.

Examples of Plagiarism in the Media

Penalties are Serious

Hope College gives professors some choices about how to handle cases of plagiarism. If a professor believes that a student commits plagiarism because he or she is trying to do honest work but doesn't know all of the rules about how to cite sources, the professor will usually impose some kind of penalty and require the student to redo the work. The penalty might be a lower grade or even failure for the assignment, but usually, the student will still be able to pass the course if the other work in the semester is good enough.

When a professor believes a student has intended to lie about the source of ideas and words and has tried to cheat on an assignment, the penalties are much stiffer. The professor can fail the student for the assignment and can also fail the student for the course. In fact, the ordinary penalty for this kind of plagiarism is failure for the course.

Any case of plagiarism must be reported by the professor to the college Provost. The Provost keeps a record of all cases of plagiarism, and if a student plagiarizes repeatedly, the Provost will take additional actions and impose additional penalties. The maximum penalty is expulsion from the college.

The college has a formal policy on plagiarism and other academic integrity violations. It is available in the Student Handbook.

So now that you know what plagiarism is and what its consequences are, how do you avoid it?

Keep Your Research Organized, Plan Ahead

There are many ways to keep track of notes as you research. Think about what system works well for your personal study style and stick with it!

Unintentional plagiarism often happens when writers lose track of what words are their own and what words and ideas belong to others, so keep clear notes on the origin of your information and if your notes are direct copies from a source or your own summaries.

Both intentional and unintentional plagiarism can happen when you feel rushed and stressed about a project. You can get sloppy in your hurry or feel tempted to cut corners. Save yourself the worry; plan ahead for both the research and the writing.

Would you like more resources to help you stay organized in your research projects?

  • The Academic Success Center has Academic Coaching or other forms of tutoring that can help build your skill set for organizing research.
  • Librarians offer research consultations that can help with the research process at any stage.
  • The library offers workshops on Zotero, a citation management software for keeping track of resources and constructing citations in papers. We also have guides on how to construct citations in specific styles.

Avoid Control-C

In an age when the majority of our research sources are digital, it can be tempting (and easy!) to copy and paste the content you need over to your notes or even directly to your paper and then modify it from there. When you do this you risk either forgetting that it is a direct copy or not making sufficient changes when you paraphrase. You will raise your understanding of research materials if you take the time to rewrite each source. It will also reduce the risk that you plagiarize. Tip: Try translating each idea into bullet points, and then turn these bullet points into your own sentences.

Know the Difference: Quoting, Summarizing, and Paraphrasing

There are three ways to incorporate sources into your writing:

  1. Direct Quotes: Using a portion of source material in its original form, surrounded by quotes and with a citation. Quotes are most helpful when your source says something particularly well that would be difficult to rewrite, but they should be used sparingly and always integrated with your own analysis.
  2. Paraphrasing: Writing information from a source in your own words but with a similar level of detail and length. Always include a citation. Paraphrasing works well when you are sharing detailed information from another source but don't want to quote directly.
  3. Summarizing: Taking a larger piece of information from a source and condensing into a briefer form in your own words. Always include a citation. Summaries are helpful for highlighting the key points from a longer source.

Would you like more help with how to appropriately quote, summarize, or paraphrase your sources?

Consider making an appointment at the Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing. The Writing Assistants are skilled at helping you integrate sources into papers.

Would you like more information on the rules for constructing citations in different academic styles? Check out these resources here!