A Note on Plagiarism

Plagiarism, the unacknowledged use of ideas not one's own, is a form of theft.  Since the academic world deals in ideas rather than goods and since it encourages the honest search for truth, it punishes severely the use of other people's work, whether printed or oral, without proper acknowledgment.  Based on Hartwick College's Academic Honesty Policy, the minimum penalty for a first documented offense is a failure on the work in question and notification to the Academic Honesty Officer.  A second documented offense brings failure in the course and indefinite dismissal from the college.  For more information on plagiarism and Hartwick College's Academic Honesty Policy, please click here.  Beyond the college, state and federal laws protect us all against plagiarism.  Legally and morally,then, there are good reasons to avoid it.

Some students enter college confused or misinformed about plagiarism.  They wonder when,  when not, and how to footnote, some erroneously thinking that when they use someone else's exact words does the need to document arise.  This is indeed a misconception.  A footnote is required for any borrowing, whether paraphrased or quoted directly.  Information may be put into a paper without a footnote or other documentation only if it meets all of the following conditions:

          1. It may be found in several sources (print or electronic) on the subject.
          2. It is written entirely in the words of the student.
          3. It is not paraphrased from any particular source.
          4.  It therefore belongs to common knowledge.

Generally, the basic test is one's own sense of honesty and fair play.  Most of us know which ideas are our own and which we read in a printed or online source, heard at a formal talk, or elicited in an interview.  We especially know the difference when we are working from notes taken from a source; in that case documentation should always be given.  In other cases, let honesty and the four conditions listed above be the test.  The following considerations may also be helpful.

          DIRECT QUOTATION should of course be documented, even when a student uses only one unusual or key word from a passage.  If a longer passage is used, even if it is a brief phrase, that, too, should be placed in quotation marks.  And the source of key words, phrases, sentences, or longer passages should be given in a footnote.

          PARAPHRASING is rewording of others' ideas, usually through alteration of sentence patterns and substitution of synonyms for original words.  When this is done, or when a passage is adapted in some other way to meet a student's needs, credit should be given to the original writer, although quotation marks are not necessary.  Again, a footnote is required.

The form which documentation takes varies from field to field.  The Humanities, for example, generally follow the format established by the Modern Language Association and published in the MLA Handbook, a format quite different from that used in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.  Usually faculty members indicate what format is to be used in their courses.  If they do not, ask.

Students who remain confused about the nature of plagiarism or the form which documentation should take may speak with their professors or come to the Writing Center for advice.