The OLOL College Student Handbook defines
plagiarism as follows:
is submitting someone else's work for credit and utilizing their words,
ideas or data without acknowledging the information through proper use
words, a person commits plagiarism if in a piece of writing they use
from another source
without properly acknowledging it. The
may be a book, article, or web site; in some cases it may even be a
film, television show, email, letter, or even a conversation (in rare
cases). The material
from the other source may be specific wording, specific concepts,
specific information, specific opinions, or some other specific
Plagiarism sometimes makes headlines. For
example, famous historian Stephen Ambrose's career was tarnished when
someone noticed that he had essentially quoted (or closely paraphrased)
from other historians without acknowledging it in one of his well-known
books. Others began to examine his other works, and found more examples
of improper quotation of unacknowledged sources. The passages in
question were relatively brief--a few sentences here and there--but a
distinguished scholar "stealing" a few sentences here and there was
considered shameful, or at least careless. Art Buchwald sued the makers
of the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America because the plot of
the film closely resembled a plot he had outlined years earlier in a
script proposal (and because the film makers did not pay Buchwald or
mention him in the film's credits). Former Beatle George Harrison lost a
"musical plagiarism" lawsuit after he used the melody from "She's So
Fine" as part of the instrumental introduction to his song "My Sweet
Our concern is with plagiarism in the
classroom. All of the following are examples of plagiarism:
student downloads a paper from the Internet, prints it out with his
name on it, and turns it in for a grade.
A student has her friend write a paper
for her and turns it in with her own name on it.
A student copies various sections of a
magazine article and pieces together a paper, making no mention of the
magazine article and in no way indicating that he used it.
student turns in a paper that she wrote, but the paper includes a
paragraph that was copied from a source that the student does not
A student turns in a paper. Parts of
the paper are taken word-for-word from other sources. Some of the
sources are listed on a references page, works cited page, or
bibliography that accompanies the paper, but there are no quotation
marks indicating that the student used exact wording from other
A student turns in a paper that
includes specific ideas about how Medicaid could be improved. The
ideas are in the student's own words, but the student got the ideas
from a web site. There is no acknowledgement of the web site as a
A student writes a paper, then asks a
friend to read over it. The friend says that the paper is hard to read
and offers to re-type it. While re-typing the paper, the friend
corrects spelling and grammar errors and clarifies the wording of
A student types up a paper. A family
member reads over it and corrects spelling errors. (If spelling is a
factor in the student's grade on the paper, correction of spelling by
others is considered plagiarism).
A student's paper includes a sentence
from a magazine article (word-for-word). The student acknowledges the
article in a parenthetical citation and on a references page, but
neglects to put quotation marks around the sentence.
There are penalties for plagiarizing.
The maximum penalty is dismissal from the College. In general, the
severity of the penalty matches the severity of the plagiarism.
Obviously the last example is less egregious than the first. For more
about the penalties for plagiarism, go
What it boils down to is that a piece
of writing turned in for a grade must belong completely to the
writer: the writer planned the paper, drafted the paper, revised the
paper, and edited the paper. Others (tutors, friends, family members)
may have offered advice, pointed out errors (without
correcting them for the writer), and made suggestions, but the
writer did the actual writing (planning, drafting, revising, and
editing). If there are any specific words, ideas, or information
that comes from other sources, the writer must very clearly indicate
what material came from which sources and whether the material is quoted
or put into the writer's own words.
This raises two questions:
Q: What if I research a topic about
which I know nothing, learn a lot about the topic from ten different
sources, then write a paper based on what I have learned? Wouldn't I
have to acknowledge the source of each and every sentence of my paper?
A: No. Notice that the word "specific"
is italicized above ("If there are any specific words, ideas, or
information that comes from other sources…"). A writer must acknowledge
sources of specific material--specific (exact) wording, as in the case
of quotes; specific (unique) ideas and opinions; specific (detailed)
information; and any other specific contribution by anyone or anything.
A writer does not have to acknowledge the source of her general
knowledge about a topic. General knowledge is basic, well-known
information. General knowledge often gets mentioned in several different
sources, indicating that it is well-known and not unique to a certain
source. A writer must decide for herself if material is general
knowledge that needs no documenting, or something specific that must be
documented in the paper. If you are not sure whether you need to
document something, document it. That way you can be sure to avoid
How do I "very clearly indicate what material came from which sources
and whether the material is quoted or put into the writer's own words"?
A: By using one of the systems of
documentation described in The Writer's Harbrace Handbook (and
elsewhere). The most common documentation styles for college papers are
MLA and APA. At Our Lady of the Lake College, most courses use APA. For
that reason, we'll use the APA style as our example. (The example is not
meant to teach you how to use APA style--it's not that simple. To learn
how to use APA style, refer to The Writer's Harbrace Handbook or
another reference work.)
In APA style documentation, as in MLA,
there are two ways to document a source. In almost all cases, any use of
specifics from another source is documented both ways. If a student
quotes a sentence from a magazine article, for example, he must provide
a parenthetical citation immediately after the quote:
According to a recent article,
"Plagiarism has become an epidemic at American college and universities"
(Johnson, 2003, p. 14).
The parenthetical citation signals
that the words within quotation marks come from page 14 of a 2003 source
by someone whose last name is Johnson. If readers desire more
information about the source (perhaps to do their own research), they
can turn to the references page at the end of the paper, where full
information about every source is provided. Among the sources listed on
the references page may be the following entry:
Johnson, P. (2003, June). The
plagiarism problem. Academic American, 12, 11-22.
The references page gives readers all
the information they need--the author's last name and first initial, the
exact publication date, the title of the article, the name of the
magazine, the volume number of the magazine, and the complete page
numbers of the article.
Plagiarism Home I
Defining Plagiarism I
Plagiarism Policies I
Avoiding Plagiarism I