Plagiarism is a word that you will see often in your class syllabi and it will be mentioned frequently by your instructors and professors. You may encounter the word so much that you become inured to it (meaning become accustomed to something unpleasant). But you may never receive an adequate definition of plagiarism or a lesson on how to avoid it. It is often assumed that new students to the university already know all the ins and outs of plagiarism.
Arizona State University defines plagiarism as, “Means using another's words, ideas, materials or work without properly acknowledging and documenting the source. Students are responsible for knowing the rules governing the use of another's work or materials and for acknowledging and documenting the source appropriately” (Arizona State University Student Academic Integrity Policy: https://provost.asu.edu/sites/default/files/AcademicIntegrityPolicyPDF.pdf , pg. 8).
All scholars, even beginning scholars, are responsible for knowing what plagiarism is and how to correctly document your sources.
In other words, plagiarism is using other people’s words, ideas or structure as your own. Why is this such a serious offense in universities? Because it violates a cherished value among scholars: scholars expand knowledge using others’ previous work, but they don’t claim others’ work as their own. This would be dishonest and the consequences for plagiarism are severe.
There are obvious cases of deliberate plagiarism, such as when a student submits an essay or research paper he or she found on the Internet as their own work. This happens more frequently that we like and sometimes it is driven by panic when a student waits until the last minute to write a paper, and sometimes very deliberately by students who do not want to do the work and think they can get away with it.
Other times plagiarism occurs either when students fudge a bit and don’t adequately document their sources or, more commonly in our experience, they are confused about what exactly constitutes plagiarism and/or don’t know exactly how to document their sources. So to provide more detail about plagiarism, you must document your sources (give credit) whenever you use:
- another person’s ideas, opinions or theories;
- any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings--any pieces of information--that are not common knowledge;
- quotations of another person's actual spoken or written words;
- a summary of another person's spoken or written words; or
- another person’s organizing structure.
Be forewarned that the penalties for plagiarism at ASU (and any university) are severe. They can range from a reduced grade for the assignment or the class to expulsion from the university. Review ASU’s policy for Academic Integrity to see the full horrors. Although the extreme penalties are rarely applied, it does and can happen.