Plagiarism


Plagiarism (definitions and sanctions)

See Also: OWL's (UVU's Online Writing Lab) handout - Avoiding Plagiarism (pdf)

Plagiarism is considered unacceptable at American institutes of higher learning, and is specifically prohibited by the Department of English and Literature of Utah Valley University. Although the prohibition of plagiarism is context-specific--it has not always, or in all forms, been banned, and is regarded with various degrees of acceptance among the world's cultures--as a practice it is incompatible with the educational mission of Utah Valley University and of the Department of English and Literature. Because the practice of transmitting, shaping, and learning to command knowledge is integral to the learning process at UVU, plagiarism is never acceptable and always carries consequences, as outlined below. Furthermore, all students are expected to be familiar, at a functional level, with the rules for avoiding plagiarism.

Definitions

Plagiarism may be intentional or unintentional. Unintentional plagiarism, or incidental use of another's ideas or words without proper attribution, arises from a lack of understanding of the rules of citation and quotation. Depending on the nature and length of the assignment, it might amount to a few copied words, but certainly not more than a few sentences. While unintentionally plagiarized work should never be accepted for credit and must be revised, instructors will deal with it as an educational issue. This policy primarily addresses the matter of intentional plagiarism, or academic fraud, defined as follows.

One commits intentional plagiarism (academic fraud) when one does any one of the following:

  1. represents as one's own the work or knowledge of another person, regardless of the form in which that work or knowledge had originally appeared (e.g. in the form of a book, article, essay, lecture, web site, speech, photograph, chart, graphic, or any other form)
  2. incorporates into one's work the words or ideas of another person without clear attribution that appears at the point the words or ideas have been incorporated, to an extent substantial enough that the origin of the words or ideas has been misrepresented
  3. fails to acknowledge clearly the partial or full authorship of someone else when submitting work
  4. consistently fails to cite or quote textual resources properly, despite the instructor's attempts at educational intervention.

A person who knowingly allows his or her work to be copied, or submitted by another student as course work without the work's proper authorship clearly identified, is an accomplice to plagiarism, and the sanctions outlined below, as relevant, will be applied to this person as well.

Sanctions

Unintentional plagiarism: As noted above, unintentional plagiarism is to be regarded as an educational matter. No plagiarized work, whether intentional or not, may be counted toward a passing grade; however, in the case of unintentional plagiarism, the student should normally be allowed to revise or rewrite the work, correcting all plagiarism problems in consultation with the instructor. The instructor should impose clear guidelines (including a deadline) for any rewritten or revised material in such a case.

Intentional plagiarism: If the instructor suspects that material submitted for evaluation in a course (including work presented orally and draft work not yet submitted for a final grade) is not the student's own work, the instructor should speak to the student about these concerns. Any student submitting work should be able to identify all textual resources used as references in producing academic work, and to produce these resources within a reasonable time upon request. Furthermore, the student should have sufficient command of the ideas contained within the work that he/she is able, with reasonable accuracy, to summarize its content and describe the process by which he/she created the work. If the student is unable to satisfactorily address the instructor's concerns, in the absence of documented evidence the instructor should develop a written contract requiring the student to rewrite the essay. In the contract, the instructor should communicate clear guidelines to the student, including the deadline for the rewritten paper. The instructor may ask the student to select a new topic if the plagiarism concerns cannot be addressed by mere revision of the original work. The contract should be signed by both the student and the instructor, and retained by the instructor in his/her records.

In any case of suspected plagiarism, the instructor should collect evidence of intentional plagiarism before proceeding with any disciplinary measures beyond those outlined above. A document (such as a student paper, web page, or published article or book) that closely resembles a student's submitted academic work is sufficient evidence to proceed with the disciplinary process described below.

If evidence shows that intentional plagiarism, as defined above, has occurred, the following sanctions shall be imposed:

  1. The academic work shall receive a failing grade
  2. The student will fail the course, or may elect to drop the course if the last day to drop a course has not yet passed, provided that the instructor's syllabus for the course conveys that intentional plagiarism will result in a failing course grade
  3. A written summary of the infraction of this policy, with copies of the relevant evidence, shall be submitted to the Office of the Dean of Student Services to document a violation of the Student Code of Utah Valley University, as outlined in "Student Rights and Responsibilities". This documentation shall also be provided to the student, and constitutes both a warning and a reprimand to the student as described in Section M, "Sanctions," of "Student Rights and Responsibilities" (Article IV, Section M in the print version).

The policy and sanctions outlined above are intended to supplement the policy of Utah Valley University, as outlined in "Student Rights and Responsibilities," and should not be construed as replacing or altering the policy of the University. Students and instructors are to understand that Utah Valley University may impose sanctions beyond those outlined by the policy of the Department of English and Literature. Documentation of intentional plagiarism presented by faculty members of the Department of English and Literature is submitted, in part, with the intent of helping the University track repeat violators of the policy. Students' rights to grievance procedures, as outlined in "Student Rights and Responsibilities", are in no way amended by the policy of the Department of English and Literature.

How To Avoid Plagiarism (tips)

Plagiarism is a topic that causes a lot of nervousness among students. The consequences can be severe, and the rules can seem tricky and easy to break. Yet if you follow the simple practices described here, and work closely with your instructor to avoid any potential violations before they become a problem, you should have no trouble avoiding plagiarism.

The key thing you need to remember is this: CLARITY is the basic standard that separates plagiarism from non-plagiarism. Here's what we mean:

When you produce work (such as a research paper, essay, or presentation) in an academic setting, it's important that your instructor--and other readers--are able to tell what is your original contribution and what is a result of someone else's work (which we will refer to, for the sake of consistency, as "textual resources"--whether written, spoken, visual, etc.). As long as you clearly identify where your original words or ideas begin and end, and where someone else's textual resources are being incorporated, then you will always successfully avoid plagiarism.

Remember that there are two separate concerns when it comes to plagiarism: words and ideas. (By "ideas," we mean both facts and opinions--anything that can be taken from a textual resource.) It's perfectly acceptable to use both words and ideas from a textual resource, unless your instructor tells you not to. But you need to inform the reader when and where you've done so.

WORDS: Quotation marks are the symbols that inform your reader that you've taken words from a textual resource. Usually, plagiarism of someone's words is easy to avoid if you're careful to place quotation marks around borrowed words.

TIP: If you're using a notebook or notecards to do research, take special care to identify quoted material in your notes. Often, plagiarism occurs because a writer copied material from a book or other textual resource into a notebook, then transferred the same words to an assignment without realizing that the words originally came from somewhere else.

Instead of using quotation marks, of course, you may choose to summarize or paraphrase the material you're using. (Even then, you still need to cite it--see below.) That's perfectly fine, as long as the new words you use are substantially your own. Consider the following passage, which is taken from page 39 of the book Literature as Exploration by Louise M. Rosenblatt (5th ed., Modern Language Association, 1995):

Another important potential satisfaction from literature, which the students only implied, is the possibility of compensating for lacks or failures through identification with a character who possesses qualities other than our own or who makes fuller use of capacities similar to our own.

Imagine that you wish to incorporate this idea in your paper. You write the following passage:

Literature's potential to satisfy its readers comes, in part, from the readers' ability to compensate for lacks or failures by identifying with a character who has qualities other than his or her own, or who makes fuller use of capacities similar to the reader's.

Whose words are these? The passage does not use Rosenblatt's exact words; thus, putting quotation marks around the passage would be incorrect, since quotation marks denote a word-for-word outtake. Yet the passage is not exactly anyone else's, either. Identical sequences of words appear in both, such as "compensat[ing] for lacks or failures" and "fuller use of capacities." Listening to the two passages read aloud, moreover, one would easily detect a strong similarity, not only in content, but in phrasing. The passage constitutes a gray area, since its phrasing cannot be said to belong to either the original author, Rosenblatt, or to anyone else. And gray areas such as this do constitute plagiarism. Therefore,

Avoid the gray areas! Since the passage's wording is taken, in part, from a textual resource (Rosenblatt), the passage constitutes plagiarism. You could avoid the problem by simply using the entirety of Rosenblatt's original passage and marking it with quotation marks. Or you could find words that expressed the same idea in words that were clearly your own and no one else's. (You'd still have to cite the idea, of course; see below.) Since it would be difficult to express Rosenblatt's thoughts without at least some use of her exact words, a mix of quotation and summary/paraphrase seems like the best bet. Here's a passage that avoids any problems with plagiarism.

Literature, as Rosenblatt argues, offers us a chance to "compensat[e] for lacks and failures" by identifying with "a character who possesses qualities other than our own," or who makes better use of the qualities we already have (39).

The passage is an accurate paraphrase of Rosenblatt's, and it clearly identifies which words are hers and which are the reader's. Since the idea expressed is Rosenblatt's, the passage also gives her credit in the form of a citation, as we'll discuss shortly.

As a general rule, you should incorporate quotation marks, at a minimum, anytime you use a sequence of three or more words that are taken from a textual resource. The standard is even higher if the words in question are distinctive or unusual. Here's another example from page 39 of Rosenblatt's book:

The term escape has perhaps been used too often in an indiscriminately derogatory sense; there are useful and harmful forms of escape.

Now imagine the following passage appears in your paper:

We should avoid using the word "escape" indiscriminately, or in a derogatory fashion. As Louise Rosenblatt argues, "there are useful and harmful forms of escape" (39).

Even though it may seem that you have carefully followed all the rules in this case, the passage still is an example of plagiarism. The problem is with the use of Rosenblatt's rather distinctive words "indiscriminately" and "derogatory." Although those English words don't belong to her exactly, in this context--as part of a specific point being made about the use of the word "escape"--they are clearly borrowed from her. Therefore, even though a citation appears, and quotation marks are used elsewhere in the passage, plagiarism has occurred.

IDEAS: The second issue surrounding plagiarism is that of ideas, which means either facts or opinions. With the exception of "common knowledge," any ideas you take from a textual resource should be cited in a standard citation format (such as MLA, APA, or Chicago--see your instructor to find out which format he/she prefers, and to obtain guidelines for following it. This document will use MLA format for its examples).

Although citation formats can seem hard to follow, citation simply means giving credit to others for ideas (again, either facts or opinions) you've taken from their work. The format for citation may take different forms, but the standard of always giving credit for others' ideas still applies. Newspaper reporters, for example, don't use footnotes or a "Works Cited" page, but they always must inform the reader when they have taken ideas from a textual resource. The standard of clarity, once again, will see you through: As long as you are letting your reader know which ideas are yours originally, and which come from a textual resource, you will avoid this form of plagiarism.

It may be helpful to think of the model of the "academic conversation" when using textual resources. Although, in most cases, your instructor will expect you to contribute some original ideas in your work, as long as he/she permits research, the ideas of others are acceptable to include as well--when properly cited. The "academic conversation" model may help you clarify to your reader how your ideas and others' interact. Let's look at another example. In this case, the student writer is interacting with ideas put forth in Jane Tompkins's book Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (Oxford University Press, 1985). Tompkins writes on pages xii-xiii,

In order to understand these neglected texts, that is, to see them, insofar as possible, as they were seen in the moment of their emergence, not as degraded attempts to pander to the prejudices of the multitude, but as providing men and women with a means of ordering the world they inhabited, one has to have a grasp of the cultural realities that made these novels meaningful.

In most academic writing, the purpose of using Tompkins's ideas is not merely to summarize them, but to interact with them. As a writer using research, you're maintaining a conversation between yourself, your textual resources, and your reader. A passage that not only uses Tompkins's ideas, but takes them someplace new, might look like this:

It's easy to find our own lives reflected in literature, but taken too far, this practice can lead to inaccuracy. As Jane Tompkins argues, to understand older works of literature we should try to see works as their original readers probably saw them, with "a grasp of the cultural realities that made [them] meaningful" (xii-xiii). Thus, historical research seems like a valid literary practice: a reader should look not just inward, but outward--to history--as well.

In the passage above, it's clear to any reader which ideas and words are Tompkins's and which belong to the student writer. (Although these may have influenced by Tompkins's views, they carry her ideas beyond what she directly says, just as Tompkins herself undoubtedly was influenced by others in shaping her original argument; the student's contribution is acceptably original.) Cues to the reader, especially the words "As Jane Tompkins argues" and the citation of page numbers, allow us to see where Tompkins's contribution starts and stops. Remember, clarity is the key: Anything that is not clearly denoted as Tompkins's work is assumed to belong to the essay's writer. If it doesn't, it's plagiarism.

The above passage successfully avoids plagiarism--and, equally importantly, avoids the thoughtless sort of paper-writing that the rule against plagiarism is intended to prevent--because it does more than merely lump a number of other writers' ideas next to each other. The writer, even of a research paper, takes on a more active role, shaping various perspectives (including his or her own) in a way that helps take the reader someplace new.