What is it?


Plagiarism: What is it?

There are two circumstances that could give rise to a charge of plagiarism:

  • Cheating (intentional plagiarism)
  • Misuse of sources (unintentional plagiarism)

Intentional plagiarism (cheating)

Intentional plagiarism is where one knowingly appropriates the work of others and passes it off as their own. This can include:

  • copying entire documents and presenting them as your own;
  • cutting and pasting from the work of others without properly citing the authors;
  • stringing together the quotes and ideas of others without connecting their work to your own original work;
  • asserting ideas without acknowledging their sources, reproducing sentences written verbatim by others without properly quoting and attributing the work to them;
  • making only minor changes to the words or phrasing of another’s work, without properly citing the authors.

Intentional plagiarism can also involve inventing sources to which you would attribute your own ideas to make them seem credible. Intentional plagiarists can be either ignorant of the seriousness of the offense, or disrespectful of the seriousness of the offense.

Unintentional plagiarism (misuse of sources)

Unintentional plagiarism, or the misuse of sources, is the accidental appropriation of the ideas and materials of others due to a lack of understanding of the conventions of citation and documentation. Misuse of sources might include a lack of understanding of paraphrasing, not being clear about the parameters of common knowledge, and/or the statute of limitations on the attribution of ideas. Since rules of attribution are culturally determined, much of unintentional plagiarism could also be the result of writers not understanding the sanctity with which American academics endow the concept of idea ownership. The misuse of sources can be the result of ignorance or laziness, but is not the result of a desire to cheat.

“Common Knowledge” and context

Material that can be plagiarized is material that does not meet the criteria for “common knowledge” and is the product of someone else’s research, experience and investigation. However, because the criteria for common knowledge are a relatively undefined set of parameters, it allows for misunderstandings that could result in unintentional plagiarism. However, because it often makes no difference whether you have intentionally or unintentionally plagiarized—it is still treated as a violation of the codes of academic honesty—it is important for you to gain as much knowledge about using and citing sources as possible. The following lists attempt to sort out what does and doesn’t need to be cited. Because, however, much of what constitutes common knowledge is audience specific, it is impossible to create a table that unequivocally illustrates the rules of citation.

What doesn’t need to be cited or attributed

  • Common knowledge (often determined by audience and context):
    George Washington was the first President of the United States.
    Locations near the equator are warmer than those closer to either pole.
  • Your own words and ideas in your own work.
  • Clip art on your computer.

Grey areas

  • New scientific discoveries, even if they are headline news.
  • Things you learn in conversation with others.
  • Things that may be common knowledge to you but not to others.

When citation and attribution is needed

  • Any information taken from sources that are not common knowledge, even if this information is in the public domain (free of copyright).
  • Any quotations, even if you are quoting something that would otherwise be common knowledge (such as quoting from a dictionary or encyclopedia).
  • Using proprietary materials such as images, audio, or videos.