There is an old saying that copying from one source is plagiarism; copying from many sources is research. This isn’t true. Plagiarism is taking anyone else’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own. It is literary theft. The word plagiarism comes from Latin meaning to kidnap. If you steal someone else’s words or ideas, you are stealing their “baby,” their creation.

Plagiarism usually comes in two forms. One is intentional, knowingly using someone else’s work, either in part or stealing credit for an entire paper. The second is often un-intentional. Many times students aren’t sure how to give proper credit for the information they have used, or the quotes they include. They get information from an article, book or web site, but don’t include citation notes or a list of sources with their paper. Sometimes, it’s laziness. The instructor does not require citations and sources, so the student doesn’t bother to include them, even though they have gotten ideas or quotes from someone else.

Please see our companion web site on Citations for more information on the proper way to give credit for the sources you use. Remember, it’s not plagiarism to use sources for a paper. It is only plagiarism if you try to pass the information off as your own. As long as you credit the sources properly, and don’t infringe on copyrighted material, using books, articles and websites is an important part of the research process

Why does it matter?

It’s two in the morning. Your paper is due in a few hours. Why shouldn’t you just grab a paper off the internet, reformat it, edit any necessary changes and be done? Plagiarism involves two types of wrong, intellectual theft, and the fraud of passing someone else’s work off as your own.

The consequences of plagiarism are varied. Punishment can range from failing an assignment to being kicked out of school or fired from a job. The stigma attached to a plagiarist is that the individual is a cheat and untrustworthy, and also is either too lazy or not intelligent enough to come up with their own thoughts or work. It’s a high price to pay for not giving proper credit in a paper. Instructors are also forced out of their roll as teachers, and have to spend time and effort policing students. Once a student plagiarizes, trust between them and the instructor is lost.

Students at SLCC who are found guilty of plagiarism can fail the assignment, the class, or in severe cases be expelled from the college. For more information about SLCC Academic Honesty policy, see pages 26-35 of the student Code of Conduct.

What can instructors do to combat plagiarism

At SLCC, we hope to be purchasing access to TurnItIn.Com. This is a website where students submit papers for their various classes. Once the paper is submitted, turnitin compares the text of the paper against thousands of papers, encyclopedias, and reference books in its database to see if the information is original, or if it has been taken from other sources. The software can exclude quoted information, and information cited in the bibliography. When the instructor logs into the site to read and grade the papers, they also get a report saying what percentage of the paper is original, and what percentage was copied from other sources. The instructor is shown side-by-side comparisons of the student’s work and possible places it was copied from. The instructor can then discuss the comparisons with the student.
  • Turnitin: The turnitin main page contains information, introductions to the software and subscription information.
  • Tutorial for students: A detailed step-by-step guide to show students how to log in and submit papers for grading by their instructors.
  • Tutorial for Instructors: The detailed instructor tutorial shows how to set up class accounts for the instructor. The instructor may also set up accounts for each student, or have the students create their own logins. More important, this tutorial shows instructors how the turnitin software checks each submitted paper for plagiarism, what the plagiarism report will look like, and what it means.
  • Originality Check: This is additional information on the reports generated by turnitin.

Websites for more information

  • Is It Research or Plagiarism?
  • Author and editor Moira Allen has written an excellent article on this subject. Her website is an excellent place to get more help with writing, research, copy-right information and more.
  • This website offers tips on avoiding plagiarism, guidelines for proper citations, answers questions about fair use, public domain, and copyright, and includes printable handouts for students.
  • When Copying Is Okay: The "Fair Use" Rule.
  • The “fair use” rule allows students and others to use small amounts of other people’s work without having to get permission. This article is from Nolo, a company that specializes in providing valid, official legal information for non-lawyers.