Plagiarism occurs in written work and in oral/visual presentations in which the writer presents materials as his/her own that have originated with someone else. These materials include information, data, ideas, conclusions, words, sentence structures, images, movies, sounds, and music. Inadvertently neglecting to include quotation marks or accurate documentation with these materials is plagiarism as surely as knowingly copying another person’s writing and submitting it as one’s own.
This definition applies to all types of sources, including print sources, sources from electronic databases, from the Internet, and from other media.
Because plagiarism presents another’s work as one’s own, it is unethical and dishonest and is therefore prohibited by the University of Lynchburg Honor Code. It also denies one’s work the benefit that comes from citing authoritative sources that lend credibility to what one is saying. Furthermore, plagiarism makes it impossible for readers to investigate the writer’s sources on their own.
There are two broad categories of plagiarism:
- First, plagiarism of ideas occurs when the writer presents the ideas of others as his/her own. Information, data, interpretations, and conclusions that come from a specific source must be attributed to the source even if the original language is not used. Plagiarism of ideas can easily be avoided by including documentation of the original source. Any standard citation style, such as MLA, APA, or Chicago style, is valid; the writer should use the citation style that is appropriate to the discipline in which he/she is writing.
- Second, plagiarism of language occurs when the writer lifts sentences or substantive words from the source. Writers must use quotation marks or block quotations to indicate that the words in the essay are exactly the same as those in the original text, and writers must provide a citation that correctly identifies the source. It is important that the writer fulfill his/her responsibility to the original source by being precise and accurate when quoting. Plagiarism of language can be avoided either by correctly identifying a quotation or by rewording so that the language of the original is replaced with language that is the writer’s own. Plagiarism of language can be further subdivided:
- Plagiarism of words occurs when the writer copies three or more consecutive content words (not function words, such as the, and, or is) from the original source without any quotation marks and formal citation. Plagiarism of words in a paraphrase can be avoided by summarizing the original text and by substituting synonyms.
- Plagiarism of sentence structure occurs when the writer substitutes synonyms for words in the original text but repeats the same sentence structure as used in the original document. Plagiarism of sentence structure in a paraphrase can be avoided by changing the grammatical structures of the original text’s sentences.
Ideas in the public domain, which are considered common knowledge, can be mentioned without citation, provided that the language of the original document is not plagiarized in any way. Public domain information involves facts and ideas that every reader in a particular field would be familiar with, facts that are readily available in reference sources, and well-known sayings. When information is available on the Internet, readers should not automatically assume that it is in the public domain.
A problem related to plagiarism is the misuse of sources. When using and acknowledging sources’ ideas in their essays, writers should take care not to distort or misrepresent the original text’s information in any way. Direct quotations must accurately reproduce the words, spelling, and punctuation of the original. Although misrepresenting a source’s information is not as serious an ethical issue as plagiarism, it is still unacceptable in college writing.
ENGL 111 and 112 provide instruction in defining, recognizing, and avoiding plagiarism.
Samples of citation styles and examples of how to acknowledge sources without plagiarizing are available through Knight-Capron Library and the Writing Center. All standard writing handbooks provide this information. Students with questions about citing sources or avoiding plagiarism in their papers should ask the instructor in the class where the paper was assigned.