Frequently Asked Questions about Plagiarism

Here are the answers you've been searching for.

Why is plagiarism such a big deal? You'd think that authors would want us to use their ideas. It's not as if we're taking credit for them. We're just harmless college students.

When you turn in someone else's work as your own, you are indeed taking credit for ideas that aren't yours, even if you aren't publishing those ideas. When you plagiarize, you also undermine your own learning experience. And you compromise your personal integrity.

Plagiarism is a big deal not only because of the ethical implications, but also because it is on the rise in the United States. Take a look at the statistics on plagiarism. With so many students plagiarizing, it becomes increasingly important to think about why we come to college.

How do you know if you are plagiarizing?

You are plagiarizing if you:

  • cut-and-paste without acknowledging your source
  • borrow an idea without acknowledging your source
  • turn in a paper purchased online or written by a friend
  • turn in a paper that you have already received credit for in another class

Is using a past paper from a different class considered plagiarism? If so, why? Why can't you just copy off yourself?

Your learning experience should be moving forward from semester to semester. If you turn in the same paper twice, you're not moving forward. On the other hand, you can always learn from previous presentations and assignments. There's nothing wrong with re-reading an earlier paper in order to freshen and invigorate your thinking.

What's the difference between summarizing and plagiarizing an article? Is there a certain point when summarizing turns into plagiarizing?

To summarize accurately and concisely is an important skill in research writing. For a good explanation of the differences between summary and plagiarism, see Prentice Hall.

Why aren't famous lines from films or poems cited when used in a play or some other text? It seems that when it's an "allusion," it's okay to plagiarize. What's the difference between making an allusion and plagiarizing?

Plagiarism seeks to conceal the source, while allusion seeks to reveal it. In creative writing (poetry, fiction, drama, memoir), you may indeed include allusions. These are references to other texts that extend your meaning. But in academic writing (essays, research, argumentation, lab reports), you must document all of your sources. One of the goals of academic writing is to show that your research is part of a larger conversation. Proper documentation will help you achieve this goal, since it places your work into the context of this larger conversation.

How does a professor find plagiarism? Do professors check the sources?

Hope professors read student work very carefully. Consequently professors notice telltale shifts and irregularities—an abrupt change in vocabulary, style, or syntax; a reference to ideas that seem contextually surprising; a paper that seems slightly off-topic.

Hope professors check sources in a variety of ways. Some professors ask students to turn in copies of sources. Some collaborate with research librarians. Many professors keep abreast of the "study guides" marketed to students. Finally, professors make judicious use of search engines and other electronic tools.

Is it plagiarism when public speakers deliver speeches that have been written by someone else?

No. Usually public speaking involves a team effort, a collaboration of skills, and a delegation of responsibility. The public knows and respects this. The public speaker does not seek to disguise such collaboration, but the plagiarist deliberately seeks to disguise his or her dishonesty.

How long does a string of words have to be to be plagiarism?

Don't worry about this question. Instead, ask this one: Have I acknowledged all my sources with fair and accurate documentation? Here's a good rule of thumb. If a source has changed the way you think about something, or if you like a phrase well enough to include it in your own work, document it.

How do other colleges and universities handle plagiarism? Is Hope's policy consistent with what is typical at other schools?

Yes, it is. See Prentice Hall

Why is plagiarism such a serious offense on a college campus and not in high schools?

It should be.