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What Is Plagiarism?

The following statement in red is abridged from pages 6-8 of Kathleen Fitzpatrick's eight edition of The MLA Handbook (2016). This text is the foremost American authority on scholarly writing in English literature and composition courses. It is the ultimate source of documentary procedure for English students.

Plagiarism is presenting another person's ideas, information, expressions, or entire work as one's own. It is thus a kind of fraud: deceiving others to gain something of value. While plagiarism only sometimes has legal repercussions (e.g., when it involves copyright infringement--violating an author's exclusive legal right to publication), it is always a serious moral and ethical offense.

Plagiarists are seen not only as dishonest but also as incompetent, incapable of doing research and expressing original thoughts. When professional writers [and other professionals generally] are exposed as plagiarists, they are likely to lose their jobs and are certain to suffer public embarrassment, diminished prestige, and loss of future credibility. . . . One instance of plagiarism can cast a shadow across an entire career. . . .

Plagiarism can take a number of forms, including buying papers from a service on the Internet, reusing work done by another student, and copying text from published sources without giving credit to those who produced the sources. All forms of plagiarism have in common the misrepresentation of work not done by the writer as the writer's own. (And, yes, that includes work you pay for. . . .)

Even borrowing just a few words from an author without clearly indicating that you did so constitutes plagiarism. Moreover, you can plagiarize unintentionally; in hastily taken notes, it is easy to mistake a phrase copied from a source as your original thought and then to use it without crediting the source (Fitzpatrick 6-8).


The MLA Style Manual (New York: MLA, 1985) likewise clearly outlines the dangers of plagiarism:

In short, to plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from someone else, and to do so is considered a violation of the professional responsibility to acknowledge "academic debts" ("Statement on Professional Ethics," Policy Documents and Reports, 1984 ed., Washington: AAUP, 1984, 134).

The most blatant form of plagiarism is reproducing [or submitting] someone else's sentences, more or less verbatim, and presenting them as your own. Other forms including repeating another's particularly apt phrase without appropriate acknowledgement, paraphrasing someone else's argument as your own, introducing another's line of thinking as your own development of an idea, and failing to cite the source for a borrowed thesis or approach. The penalties for plagiarism can be severe, ranging from loss of respect to loss of degrees, tenure, or even employment. At all stages of research and writing, you must guard against the possibility of inadvertent plagiarism. . . .

Even without considering the penalties of plagiarism, the best scholars generously acknowledge their debts to others. By doing so they not only contribute to the historiography of scholarship but also help younger scholars understand the process of research and discovery.


If you are taking an English course at Carson-Newman University, you should become acquainted with the procedures of research, composition, and documentation alluded to in these passages. If you have not taken such a class before, or if you did not master fully the procedures in such a course, it is important to know that when presenting research essays or other writings, you are held responsible for knowledge of and compliance with research policies and procedures, including MLA citations to credit your sources. Ignorance about plagiarism is not considered an excuse.

For full guidance, see pages 5-9 of the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Ask your teacher if you have any questions.

Plagiarism: All work submitted in this class must be your own work, generated exclusively for this class, and not work intended for submission in another course. The use of sources (ideas, quotations, paraphrasing) should be properly documented. For the consequences of academic dishonesty, refer to the Carson-Newman Catalog.

Click here to download a copy of the plagiarism statement you should sign as a pdf file.

 

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