Plagiarism. To plagiarize is to use the distinctive ideas or words of another without adequate acknowledgement. To pass off as one's own another's ideas or words is as dishonest in academic matters as forgery, embezzlement, or robbery are in financial matters. With most academic writing, most of the thought and expression belong to the writer himself. Some ideas - such as original sin - have such wide currency that all may use them; some words - such as proverbs, saws, and cliches - are like public highways; only pedantic fools document the sources of these. But when a writer borrows what belongs to another, he must indicate the source by footnote or internal reference, and he must enclose any and all the distinctive words of the source within quotation marks. To clarify the above, the following four samples illustrate proper acknowledgement and three kinds of plagiarism.

-- This handout has been adapted by the Hollins University Writing Center from the pamphlet developed by Mr. William A. Elwood, director of first year English at the University of Virginia.

 

... I had graduated from an all-girl's school in the 1940s, where the head and majority of the faculty were independent, unmarried women... In a kind of cognitive dissonance, we knew they were "old maids" and therefore supposed to be bitter and lonely; yet we saw them as vigorously involved with life. But despite their existence as alternative models of women, the content of the education they gave us in no way prepared us to survive as women in a world organized by and for men.

From that school, I went on to Radcliffe, congratulating myself that now I would have great men as my teachers. From 1947 to 1951, when I graduated, I never saw a single woman on a lecture platform, or in front of a class, except when a woman graduate student gave a paper on a special topic. The "great men" talked of other "great men," of the nature of Man, the history of Mankind, the future of Man; and never again was I to experience, from a teacher, the kind of prodding, the insistence that my best could be even better, that I had known in high school. Women students were simply not taken seriously. Harvard's message to women was an elite mystification: we were, of course, part of Mankind; we were special, achieving women, or we would not have been there; but of course our real goal was to marry -- if possible, a Harvard graduate.

Adrienne Rich, "Taking Women Students Seriously," The Norton Reader, ed. Arthur M. Eastman (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1984) 256-257.

 

 Example #1: Incomplete paraphrasing as plagiarism.

Although women are beginning to share many of the same privileges as men, they still must face many difficult challenges in order to achieve this equal status. For instance, women are not prepared in school [A] to survive in a male-organized world. Women in college hear not about the world made up of men and women equally but rather about [B] the Nature of Man, [C] the Future of Man, or [D] the history of mankind. [E] As Adrienne Rich states, "Women students were simply not taken very seriously" (257).

Comment: Students often unintentionally plagiarize in the manner illustrated by [A], [B], [C], and [D]. Although the author correctly acknowledges a quotation, [E],she picks up nearby phrases from the original excerpt and uses them as if they were her own.

[A] Although "male-organized world" is not Rich's exact phrase, it merely varies "a world organized by men" slightly and insufficiently to avoid a plagiarism. In a paraphrase, the words must be entirely the writer's own.

[B], [C], and [D] The only difference between the author's words and Rich's words is the order in which [B], [C], and [D] appear. Because these are not in quotation marks, the author intends her reader to accept the phrases as her own. They are not.

[E] Correct acknowledgement.

 

Example #2: Plagiarism of an idea.

I think the problem with most universities is that they do not give women the recognition they deserve as scholars. Women are audience members, and men are in front of the class teaching. Women are only allowed behind the podium if they are graduate students who have special permission to share a specific project. Some female students coming from high schools that give them encouragement to achieve find themselves lacking individual attention at a coed institution. Women often suffer from a lack of recognition, and coed schools should be more aware of women's scholarly potential.

Comment: This particular example of plagiarism is less obvious than the previous example because the words are the author's own. By using "I think" in the beginning of the paragraph, the author has led the reader to believe that the ideas belong to her; however, the ideas clearly belong to Rich, yet there is no citation to indicate Rich's ownership of these ideas.

 

Example #3: Grand Larceny.

I had graduated from an all-girls' school in the 1980s, where the head and the majority of the faculty were independent, unmarried women. In some respects, we all knew they were "old maids" and therefore supposed to be bitter and lonely; yet we saw them vigorously involved with life. But despite their existence as alternative role models of women, the content of the education they gave us in no way prepared us to survive as women in a world dominated by men.

 

From that school, I went on to Washington and Lee, congratulating myself that now I would have great men as my teachers. From 1989 to 1993, when I graduated, I never saw a single woman on a lecture platform, or in front of a class, except when a woman graduate student gave a paper on a special topic. The "great men" talked of other "great men," of the nature of man, the history of Mankind, and the future of Man; never again was I to experience, from a teacher, the kind of special attention, the encouragement to achieve, that I had known in high school. Women students were simply not taken very seriously. W&L's message to women was an elite mystification: we were, of course, part of Mankind; we were special, achieving women, or we would not have been there in the first place; but of course our real goal was to marry one of the real scholars on campus.

Comment: This is the most obvious form of plagiarism: outright theft. The paragraph is taken almost word for word from Rich's with no acknowledgement whatsoever. The slight change in word choice and years may be seen as an attempt to make the paragraph sound like the student's own work; the author here is trying to disguise her outright theft of Rich's ideas.

 

Example #4: Proper paraphrasing and acknowledgement.

Although women are beginning to share much of the same privileges as men, they still must face many difficult challenges in order to achieve this equal status. For example, as Adrienne Rich points out in her essay "Taking Women Students Seriously," women are not prepared in school to survive in a male-organized world (256). Rich goes on to say that women, even in single-sex institutions, hear not about the world made up of men and women, equally, but rather about the "nature of Man, the history of Mankind, [or] the future of Man" (257). The problem is, as Rich says, "Women students [are] simply not taken very seriously" (257).

Comment: The attribution in the second sentence, "as Adrienne Rich points out...," serves as a flag for the idea that follows, which is unique to Rich even though the words are not taken directly from her essay. The citation for the third sentence is needed because it contains both a paraphrase and a quotation. The attribution at the beginning of the sentence illustrates to the reader that both the quotation and the paraphrase are based on Rich's essay. The third citation is needed because that sentence also contains a quotation. Again, the attribution at the beginning of the sentence tells the reader that the ideas and words within that sentence belong to Rich.

 

The parenthetical page numbers shown in this example are representative of the Modern Language Association (MLA) style of documentation. In the Works Cited page at the end of an MLA, the author will provide appropriate bibliographic information about the essay, such as where it was published and the year it was written.