Plagiarism is unethical and has serious repercussions at the University of Puget Sound. As the MLA Handbook (8th Edition) reads, “Plagiarism is presenting another person's ideas, information, expressions, or entire work as one's own” (6–7). If I hadn't cited the MLA Handbook just now and had presented the sentence as my own, I would have plagiarized and would have been fired. This is why citing is important and why professionals place so much emphasis on academic integrity. Below are some pointers on how to avoid plagiarism.
Because plagiarism is the act of claiming another's intellectual output as your own, plagiarism includes more than not quoting text that ought to be quoted; plagiarism also includes not attributing authorship to ideas that are not originally yours and framing as your own a paper that someone else wrote (even if you paid them). It is also considered plagiarism to reuse an essay that you had previously written. The University of Puget Sound has a policy forbidding the reuse of previous work without express permission from your instructor.
For more information on Puget Sound policies on plagiarism, please see the Puget Sound Academic Handbook.
Plagiarism is hardly ever intended. More often, a student who plagiarizes will be unaware that they are doing so. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid plagiarizing.
- Write down everything.
When you're doing research, keep track of all of your sources, especially sources from which you quote or paraphrase. If you're drafting and don't want to break your focus, leave a comment to remind yourself to cite the source later. (A knowledge-management tool such as Zotero can help you to keep track of your sources.)
- Attribute everything.
The most important thing to include when attributing authorship is the author's name. This can be done in text, in parentheses, or in a note. If the source does not name an author, provide the title of the source. It is also useful to provide page or line numbers whenever possible. It is safest and often most effective rhetorically to credit the author or source as near to the attributed material as possible; attribution should occur within the same sentence as the attributed material. (For information about the conventions of attribution, both textual and parenthetical, see Section 8.1.)
- When in doubt, quote.
Paraphrasing presents problems for students, primarily because the line between acceptable paraphrase and plagiarism is somewhat arbitrary. Of course, this shouldn't be a problem if you attribute the paraphrased information to its original author(s). Though disciplines and styles have different preferences, the transparency of quoting makes it a safe way to present information that isn't your own. Quoting, however, should never take the place of attributing authorship.
- Not everything needs a citation.
Any knowledge that both you and your readers share need not be cited. For instance, it is probably safe to assume that your readers will know that plagiarism is unethical. You could make such a statement without feeling the need to attribute it. However, it would be necessary to attribute authorship to a statement suggesting that plagiarism is ethical—for such an idea is not likely to be shared by your readers. That said, when in doubt, attribute. There's little, if anything, wrong with attributing too much, while attributing too little can be disastrous. It is in your best interest to cite.