Knowing how to use information in an ethical manner is an important component of information literacy. It's important to understand plagiarism, understand its consequences, and to learn some best practices for avoiding plagiarism.
What is plagiarism? Simply put, plagiarism is making use of other people's ideas, words, creative works and expressions without giving credit or otherwise listing the source of the information. Plagiarism is stealing. Plagiarism is also misrepresentation and includes handing in someone else's work, ideas, or answers as your own. Regardless of whether it happens inadvertently through sloppy research or on purpose through unethical behavior, it is plagiarism just the same and the person plagiarizing will be held liable. This guide helps inform you about plagiarism, and gives some best practice ideas to help avoid plagiarism.
Consequences of Plagiarism
Those of us in academic settings are aware that plagiarism has its consequences. Students who plagiarize run the risk of flunking assignments or entire courses, and run the very real risk of expulsion from the university. At ISU, cases of student plagiarism fall into the category of Academic Misconduct, and are subject to ISU's code of Student Disciplinary Regulations. Cases of suspected academic misconduct are forwarded to the Dean of Students and the Judicial Affairs office, who determine appropriate sanctions on a case-by-case basis. Faculty, authors, and researchers who plagiarize risk losing their jobs and their professional standing. The national news and the Chronicle of Higher Education contain stories of what has happened to unethical faculty and researchers nationwide. Regardless of rank, being found guilty of plagiarism is a humiliating experience with serious consequences.
Best Practices for Avoiding Plagiarism
There are many ways to avoid plagiarism, including developing good research habits, good time management, and taking responsibility for your own learning. Listed below are some specific tips:
* Don't procrastinate with your research and assignments. Good research takes time. Procrastinating makes it likely you'll run out of time or be unduly pressured to finish. This sort of pressure can often lead to sloppy research habits and bad decisions. Plan your research well in advance, and seek help when needed from your professor, from librarians, the Academic Success Center staff, and other campus support staff.
* Commit to doing your own work. If you don't understand an assignment, talk with your professor. Don't take the "easy way" out by asking your roommate or friends for copies of old assignments. A different aspect of this is group work. Group projects are very popular in some classes on campus, but not all. Make sure you clearly understand when your professor says it's okay to work with others on assignments and submit group work on assignments, versus when assignments and papers need to represent your own work.
* Be 100% scrupulous in your note taking as you prepare your paper or research, and as you begin drafting your paper. One good practice is to clearly label in your notes your own ideas (write "ME" in parentheses) and ideas and words from others (write "SMITH, 2005" or something to indicate author, source, source date). Keep good records of the sources you consult, and the ideas you take from them. If you're writing a paper, you'll need this information for your bibliographies or references cited list anyway, so you'll benefit from good organization from the beginning.
* Cite your sources scrupulously. Always cite other people's work, words, ideas and phrases that you use directly or indirectly in your paper. Regardless of whether you found the information in a book, article, or website, and whether it's text, a graphic, an illustration, chart or table, you need to cite it. When you use words or phrases from other sources, these need to be in quotes. Current style manuals, available at the Parks Library Research Help Desk, will help you use a consistent means of citation. They may also give further advice on avoiding plagiarism.
* Understand good paraphrasing. Simply using synonyms or scrambling an author's words and phrases and then using these "rewrites" uncredited in your work is plagiarism, plain and simple. Good paraphrasing requires that you genuinely understand the original source, that you are genuinely using your own words to summarize a point or concept, and that you insert in quotes any unique words or phrases you use from the original source. Good paraphrasing also requires that you cite the original source. Anything less and you veer into the dangerous territory of plagiarism.
For more information, please consult:
Susan A. Vega Garcia
Head of Instruction, ISU Library