What is Plagiarism?

When Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí incorporated Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa into their own paintings, or when Jay-Z sampled soul legend Isaac Hayes in “Empire State of Mind,” these artists were building on the works of others in order to make new works with new meaning. Many of your professors will ask you to do the same when you write academic essays that draw on the writing and ideas of others. When you do this, you need to cite the work of these other writers, just as  Warhol, Dalí, and Jay-Z had to follow the copyright guidelines and laws that apply to visual art and music. These citations are an expression of academic integrity.

Writing in college really means taking part in a conversation with other scholars, writers, and thinkers. Academic citation is how you demonstrate the relationship between your ideas and those of others. On the other hand, plagiarism is the failure to demonstrate that relationship: to your professors, this will look like stealing other people’s ideas.

You can gain the authority you need to enter these conversations by learning different ways to engage with sources. Authority is not something you already have, or that you find somewhere, or that you get by passing a class: when you write a college paper you create your own authority. Writer Mark Gaipa emphasizes this point when he argues that “[a]uthority . . . is less a characteristic than a relationship that a writer has with other authors” (419). Gaipa provides a number of suggestions for engaging with sources (see the comics version here). What he shows is that your authority as a writer comes in large part from the way that you can relate to other writers. The writing assignments you do in your classes will help you practice the different ways of relating to other writers, and this practice is the thing that your professors really want to see in your writing.

–Mark Gaipa, “Breaking into the Conversation: How Students Can Acquire Authority for Their Writing,” Pedagogy 4.3 (2004): 419-437.

HOW DO I . . .

. . . Avoid Plagiarism?
Many students are surprised to hear their papers contain plagiarism; what are some of the common misunderstandings about how to properly use sources?

. . . Revise a Paper that Has Plagiarism?
The first step if your instructor has told you that your paper has plagiarism is to understand why: is it a problem with Citing, Summarizing, or Paraphrasing (the three main ways to use sources)?

. . . Use Online Sources?
If your instructor allows you to use general resources found on the Internet such as a website, free database, or Wikipedia, how do you know whether you are looking at a trustworthy source?

. . . Use Library Sources
Your instructor may require you to use scholarly sources found in the Library or on one of the electronic databases the Library subscribes to: but where do you begin to find what you need?

. . . Engage with a Scholarly Source? [pdf]
You may be asked to use a particular author or text to make an argument: what are the different ways you may “use” this author’s ideas without feeling like you’re just repeating them back?

. . . Know the Difference between the Three Skills: Quotation, Paraphrase, and Summary?
Even though quoting seems like the safe way to avoid plagiarism, you also should know when and how to paraphrase or summarize long texts.

. . . Know How to Use Paraphrase Fairly?
You do not always need to use quotation; many times your writing will be more effective if you paraphrase another author’s idea. But how do you do this without just making cosmetic changes?

. . . Use Quotation Marks, Brackets, and Ellipses to Create an Effective Citation? [pdf]
Instead of dumping whole chunks of quotation in your writing, learn how to use brackets and ellipses to just focus on the most important aspects of the source you are using.

. . . Use the Technique of Incorporating Quotations? [pdf]
There is a way to make the quotations you cite a more natural part of your writing; your instructor might call this “incorporating quotes,” which is how you revise what you want to avoid: “dropped quotes.”

. . . Know the Difference between Citation Styles?
There are a number of citation styles, used by various academic fields–including MLA, APA, and Chicago style. Your professors will ask you to use the citation styles they believe work best for the kinds of work required in the courses they’re teaching. It’s important to know about the variety of citation styles and to use each with consistency.

. . . Create a Citation using APA?
APA style tends to be used in the sciences and social sciences.

. . . Create a Citation using MLA?
MLA style tends to be used in the humanities, especially literature courses.

. . . Create a Citation using Chicago?
Chicago style is also common in the humanities, but may be used for other disciplines as well.

. . . Get Help if I’m an ESL Student?
There are a variety of resources available for students whose native language is not English, both on campus and online.

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