Academic Honesty

A quick look at this site's weblog establishes that colleges and universities take the issue of plagiarism extremely seriously. Students at all levels should acquaint themselves with the various practices that constitute plagiarism, including:

  • Submission of academic work that is not the student's own original effort;
  • Use of the same work for multiple courses without prior consent of the instructors;
  • Unacknowledged references to sources beyond those authorized by the instructor in preparing papers, constructing reports, solving problems, or carrying out other academic assignments;
  • Inadequate, incorrect, or mistaken citation of any source.

Most people do not deliberately commit plagiarism. Usually, it results from:

Procrastination: It is important to set aside adequate time to complete your assignment. When using sources, you should get in the habit of citing them in full as you write. Filling in page numbers, making footnotes, or making a works cited page or bibliography after you have finished writing often leads to inadvertent mis-citations or omissions.

Incomplete understanding of original material: Avoid using any source with which you are not completely comfortable. As a general rule, if you cannot restate the main idea of a passage in your own words without referring to the original source, then you should not use this source for your own work.

Citation Errors: Common errors that lead to accidental plagiarism include: using words or passages from the original source without using quotation marks and/or without citing the source; using different citation formats within the same assignment; or using a citation format incorrectly.

Poor note-taking: Inexperienced students often forget to put quotation marks around notes taken directly from text, or find that their notes are disorganized. As a result, they cannot tell which notes came from which source when they are in the stages of writing up their assignment.

Professors assign papers/projects to determine your own analysis and ideas on a topic; they already know what the established sources have to say and are instead looking for fresh perspectives. If you are able to take academic risks by introducing new and insightful ideas about a topic, you are far less likely to commit accidental plagiarism because the foundation of your work will be your own. Learning to develop your own insight on a topic is, after all, one goal of a college education.

Understanding the Complexities of Plagiarism

It is important to understand that plagiarism is not always a cut and dry issue. It is not only committed by students, and when it occurs it is often defended on the basis that it was not intended (see the weblog's recent entries for discussion of the case of Doris Kearns Goodwin). Inadvertent plagiarism is nevertheless plagiarism. Familiarizing yourself with the following concepts and practices should help you come to terms with what is plagiarism so that you can avoid it:

  1. Overview of Plagiarism: Common Types of Plagiarism
  2. Common Knowledge
  3. Note taking
  4. Citing Sources