Presented by the Writing Center and the Committee on Academic Integrity
According to the Student Handbook, "Academic cheating includes (but is not limited to) the following: falsification of laboratory data, bringing unauthorized material to an examination seat, copying another student’s work on an examination, misrepresenting someone else’s work as one’s own (including borrowing or purchasing term papers), and plagiarism" (20).
At USciences, as in all institutions of higher learning, ideas are highly valued, and so is the language that expresses those ideas. In both a legal and moral sense, words and ideas are the property of their authors. Plagiarism is the theft of that property. When you plagiarize, you are presenting someone else’s words and/or ideas as if they are your own. This situation applies to all printed material as well as to words and ideas found through electronic sources.
Plagiarism may be intentional or unintentional. In either case, the penalty for plagiarism can be severe, including failure of the assignment, failure in the course, and/or expulsion from the institution.
While the various disciplines differ in the specific formats that they use to cite sources, they share a commitment to academic integrity and to the requirement that students use source material correctly. If you have questions about avoiding plagiarism in an assignment for a specific course, ask your professor. You can get assistance with correct documentation at the Writing Center.
In general, you are expected to show the source of all information (including facts, statistics, opinions, theories, lines of argument, examples, research results, etc.) except common knowledge. The definition of "common knowledge" may vary according to the expertise of the writer and reader; however, information may be considered to be common knowledge if it meets one of the following requirements:
For example, the date (December 7, 1941) of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is common knowledge; no source would be given for this information. However, a specific historian’s opinion that the U.S. military should have been better prepared for the attack would not be considered common knowledge, and a source should be given for this view.
Putting someone else’s ideas in your own words is paraphrasing. Usually, a paraphrase is about the same length as the original. Careless paraphrasing can lead to plagiarism. When you paraphrase, paraphrase completely. This means:
Disciplines vary in the amount of the original language that you are permitted to use without quotation; check with your professor. In any case, if it is difficult or impossible to paraphrase certain language, then quote it exactly, and use quotation marks.
A good paraphrase takes work. An effective method is to read the original sentence, think about its meaning, look away from the original, write the idea in your own words, and then check your version against the original to be sure that you have not accidentally used too much of the original language.
Here are examples of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrases:
The craft of hurricane forecasting advanced rapidly in the sixties and early seventies, thanks to fast computers and new atmospheric modeling techniques. Now there is a lull in the progress, strangely parallel to the lull in the storm cycle. The National Hurricane Warning Center shoots for a 24-hour warning period, with 12 daylight hours for evacuation. At that remove, it can usually predict landfall within 100 miles either way. Longer lead times mean much larger landfall error, and that is counterproductive. He who misses his predictions cries wolf.
(From "Our Barrier Islands,"
by William H. MacLeish, Smithsonian, Sept. 1980, p. 54.)
(Plagiarized sections are in bold type.)
Hurricane forecasting made rapid progress in the 60s and 70s due to fast computers and new atmospheric techniques, but there is now a lull in the progress. The Warning Center tries for a 24-hour warning period, including 12 hours of daylight. That close to the storm’s arrival, the Warning Center can usually predict landfall within 100 miles either way. If lead times are longer, there will be a much larger error, which will be counter-productive (MacLeish 54).
Many phrases are stolen from the original. Leaving out or changing a word here and there (for example, much larger landfall error has become much larger error) is not acceptable. Also, the plagiarized version duplicates the sentence structure of the original, which is not permitted. Even though the author (MacLeish) is supplied, the paraphrase is unacceptable.
|During the past thirty years, powerful computers and new techniques which allow modeling of the atmosphere have significantly increased the accuracy of hurricane forecasting, though there have been no improvements in forecasting during the past few years. However, now it is possible to predict where a hurricane will hit land with an error of not more than 100 miles if a warning of 24 hours is allowed. If more than 24 hours is required, the error will be greater. Repeated forecasting errors will cause the public to ignore the warnings (MacLeish 54).|
This version uses different language and sentence structure from that of the original. Note: Even when your paraphrase is acceptable, you must show the source of the ideas. Putting ideas into your own words does not make those ideas your own. They are still the property of their originator, who must be given credit. The reference to MacLeish provides that credit.
A summary briefly conveys in your own words the main idea of a passage. Like paraphrasing, careless summarizing can lead to plagiarism. The same rules apply as in paraphrasing: use your own language and sentence structure, and give credit to the originator of the ideas. Here are examples of acceptable and unacceptable summaries of the MacLeish passage given above:
(Plagiarized passages are in bold type.)
|Hurricane warnings can be provided within a 24-hour warning period, with 12 hours of daylight for evacuation, and can identify landfall within 100 miles (MacLeish 54).|
|Using computers and new techniques which allow modeling of the atmosphere, forecasters can now provide a 24-hour hurricane warning and predict where a storm will hit with an error of not more than 100 miles (MacLeish 54).|
AN EXAMPLE FROM SCIENCE
(From Campbell, Neil A. Biology. 3rd ed. Redwood City, CA: Benjamin/Cummings, 1993)
The chemical behavior of carbon makes it exceptionally versatile as a building block in molecular architecture. It can form four covalent bonds, link together into intricate molecular skeletons, and join with several other elements. The versatility of carbon makes possible the great diversity of organized molecules, each with special properties that emerge from the unique arrangement of its carbon skeleton and the functional groups appended to that skeleton. At the foundation of all biological diversity lies this variation at the molecular level (Campbell 61).
Biological diversity has its molecular basis in carbon's ability to form an incredible array of molecules with characteristic shapes and chemical properties (Campbell 62).
(This summary appears in the study outline of Chapter 4.)
COMBINING PARAPHRASE AND/OR SUMMARY WITH QUOTATION
When you want to include some of the original language of the source, you may combine paraphrase and/or summary with quotation. Here is an example of an acceptable summary which includes a quotation from the original version presented above:
|The public depends on accurate, timely hurricane forecasting. When the forecasts are repeatedly wrong, the public will stop believing them: "He who misses his predictions cries wolf" (MacLeish 54).|
COLLABORATION AND ACADEMIC INTEGRITY
The purpose of most student assignments is to stimulate you to do your own thinking. Thus, the written work you submit as your own must be your own; otherwise, you are risking plagiarism. Although discussion of assignments with other students may be beneficial, you should never use the work--papers, notes, etc.--of another student. The ideas, wording, and organization of your assignment should always be distinctly your own.
Sometimes a professor will allow or encourage collaboration in completing an assignment. If you are not sure whether you may work with others, it is your responsibility to check with your professor. When a professor requires a group to collaborate on an assignment and to submit a single product for the entire group, fairness requires that you take the responsibility of contributing your share of the work.
Collaboration does not always result in a group producing a single product. Instead, a professor may assign students to work in groups to explore ideas or to work through a process, after which each student may have to produce his or her own product--a written assignment. In such a case, it is critical that students do not share drafts of their written work.
USING ELECTRONIC SOURCES
The most important point to remember is that the rules for printed sources also apply to material found through Internet searches, electronic discussion groups, online databases, and other electronic sources. Missing citations and/or failure to use quotation marks when they are necessary constitute plagiarism. Be careful to resist the temptation to simply cut and paste into your paper material that you find on the web.
Each discipline has developed its own guidelines for the specific method of documentation of electronic sources. In general, though, more bibliographic information is included for an electronic source than for a printed source because it may be harder to find the electronic source after some time has passed. In fact, private sources, such as email and electronic bulletin boards, may be impossible for anyone else to locate, and therefore they are documented as personal communications. If you find an electronic version of a printed journal or index, you should cite the printed version because the reader may be unable to access the same electronic source that you did.
You should evaluate the reliability and accuracy of all sources, but because much of the material on the web has not been screened by an objective viewer, you should be especially careful to evaluate electronic sources. You may find inaccurate information and biased opinions. Check on when the site was created or last updated; for science and health-related topics, recent information is likely to be essential. Find out about the qualifications and motivations of the writer or sponsoring organization. The validity of your paper will depend on the quality of your sources; don't assume that whatever you find is equally valid.
Explanations and examples in this handout have been adapted from the following:
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995.
Hacker, Diana, and Barbara Fister. Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age. Boston: St. Martin's, 1998.
Leggett, Glenn, et al. Prentice Hall Handbook for Writers. 10th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988.
Mulderig, Gerald P., and Langdon Elsbree. The Heath Handbook. 13th ed. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1995.
Woodward, Jeannette A. Investigating Resources in Cyberspace. 2nd ed. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC, 1999.