What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is undoubtedly the most common form of academic misconduct on college campuses today. According to the Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert, 3rd ed., New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1988, p. 21.), "Plagiarism is the act of using another person's ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source." This seems plain enough, but sometimes students who commit plagiarism—particularly first-year students--don't realize it. It's important to know that unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism.

Bucknell's Academic Responsibility policy lists the following examples of plagiarism: To use a specific idea, detail, illustration drawn from a particular source without reference in a footnote and bibliography.

  • To use general background for an assignment from a book, article, or other source which is not acknowledged.
  • To submit another person's paper, project, or homework as one's own.
  • To paraphrase without citing the sources.
  • To use even a brief phrase exactly quoted from a source without putting it in quotation marks or indenting it, and citing it.
  • To use material from residence or fraternity files and turn it in as one's own work.
  • To use information or material from the Internet without citing the sources.

What's wrong with paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is a dangerous practice that students often think is harmless or even necessary; the original author said it better than you can, so you're afraid to stray too far from that person's ideas or language. But if you paraphrase, it's still the original author's idea and a good bit of the original author's language or sentence structure, so you need to cite your source with a footnote, an endnote, or a parenthetical reference; it's not enough just to list the source in your bibliography. Another unacceptable practice is patch writing, which is piecing together ideas and parts of sentences from many different sources without citing your sources. Remember that even if you do cite all your sources, a paper that is composed mostly of other people's words and ideas with no attempt on your part to synthesize the information or relate it to your own ideas is not a good paper.

Why do students plagiarize?

Students who know the rules often resort to plagiarism when they haven't managed their time well and they run up against deadlines. They think that copying or paraphrasing material is preferable to turning in a paper late or turning in a hastily-written paper because they don't want to get a poor grade. But the effects of being found guilty of plagiarism or any other form of academic misconduct are much worse than just getting a poor grade. Plan ahead so you will have plenty of time to research your topic, write and edit the paper, and get help from the Writing Center, a research librarian, or your professor. If you find yourself crunched for time, ask your professor for an extension on the due date. If you can't have more time, do the best job you can in the time you have and then accept the consequences to your grade.

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