According to Dictionary.com plagiarism is "the unauthorized use or close imitation of language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own work." Or, to put it a little more simply, plagiarism is the act of intentionally or unintentionally passing someone else's words or ideas off as your own. Since plagiarism can occur whether you intend it or not, it's important to have a clear idea of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.
Credit Where Credit is Due
While plagiarism is usually just the result of careless mistakes, it is still a serious offense. You should be vigilant in every stage of your research and writing to make sure that you get credit for your original ideas and that you give proper credit to those whose work you used to support your argument.
Examples of Plagiarism
#1- You purposefully place your name on someone else's paper or project. Or, you cut and paste chunks of text from the web and use it as if its your own words.
This is the most blatant form of plagiarism. It's pretty easy to understand how using someone else's entire work (with or without their knowledge) is a bad idea. This includes copy and pasting paragraphs or whole sections from online articles or even websites. The idea of most assignments is for the instructor to see original work, and passing someone else's hard work off as your own is cheating.
#2- You use an author's exact works to explain or describe a concept but don't use quotation marks to cite the source.
Sometimes there's no way you can say something better than what another author has done. In these cases, it's okay to use their exact phrasing, but you need to be sure to indicate that it comes from another source (quotation marks) and the source from which it comes (a citation or reference). It's your job to give credit to these other authors. Also, you may want to keep aware of how much material you are drawing from other sources. The instructor wants to read your original work, so make sure that there is more of that than information from external sources.
#3- You paraphrase an author's idea or concept using your own words but do not properly credit the idea's original source.
Even if you don't take the information word for word, you still need to credit and cite the original source of these ideas. Since they are your own words you don't need the quotation marks, but you still need the citation or reference at the end of the section to indicate that the idea did not come from you.
How to Avoid Plagiarism
Most people do not deliberately plagiarize. In most cases it falls under the second or third example because students simply didn't know how to properly cite the sources for their papers or projects. The best way to avoid and prevent plagiarism is to understand how to use the style guides like MLA, APA, or Chicago. Each profession has its own citation style, and you can find guides for each in the Alexander Mack Library. You can also find tutorials online and through the Bridgewater Writing Center.
Consequences of Plagiarism
If you are caught plagiarizing, there can be some serious consequences. At the class level, most instructors address the penalties for plagiarism and cheating in their syllabi. In addition, the College prohibits plagiarism and other forms of cheating in its Student Handbook.
Here is an excellent video on plagiarism.