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Student Learning Center: Plagiarism

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You’ve probably heard a lot about plagiarism and how serious it is at colleges and universities. In the most simple terms, plagiarism is taking someone else’s ideas and passing them off as your own. This can include everything from using a quote in your paper without citing it, to having someone else write your essay for you. Some instances of plagiarism are obvious (such as copying an essay found online) and others are more nuanced (for example, deciding which outside material requires a citation). It’s important to know what Otis expects so that any possible instances of plagiarism can be avoided.


This is the Otis College plagiarism policy:

“All ideas, arguments, and phrases, submitted without attribution to other sources must be the creative product of the student. Thus, all text passages taken from the works of other authors (published or unpublished) must be properly cited. The same applies to paraphrased text, opinions, data, examples, illustrations, and all other creative work. Violations of this standard constitute plagiarism.”


Why does it matter?

It’s important to distinguish between original ideas and ideas that are taken from someone or somewhere else for the purpose of making one’s point. We all use outside sources, data, quotes, etc. as the building blocks for academic work. Just as protecting creative and intellectual property in art and design is important, so is protecting original ideas in academic writing.


So, what counts as plagiarism?

Since almost all academic work is built off of previous ideas, it can be hard to determine exactly who “owns” certain information. “Common knowledge,” for example, can be a tricky area to navigate In these cases, ask yourself: Did I know this information before taking the course? Can I remember where I learned it, or is it truly something that ‘everyone knows?’ If so, it’s ok to use the information without citing it. For example, say you’re writing a paper on the executive branch of the United States government. Information like the fact that a presidential term is four years or that we have a two-term limit are widely known, and so there’s no need to find a citation for them.

Plagiarism includes:

  • Work that is copied word-for-word from a book, article, or other text without quotes.

  • Quotes that are incorrectly cited or not cited at all.

  • Including facts or other information without citing the source material.

  • Taking a major idea or theory from a source and communicating it as though it's your own.

  • Having someone else write your essay (even if all the ideas are your own).

  • Turning in identical work as another student, even if you worked on the project together.


Paraphrasing means taking a quote or text and putting it in your own words. We do this all the time in academic writing and it does not count as plagiarism as long as the information is in your own words -- this does not mean finding a synonym for a word or two, but completely re-configuring the ideas to come up with new language. A good tip for doing this is to take notes on the information and then write from your notes instead of directly from the source. Also remember, you still need to cite the information!


Tips to avoid Plagiarism:

  • When taking notes, make sure you write down where the information comes from. Also, make sure to take notes in your own words -- it’s easy to copy something down verbatim and then forget that it’s taken directly from the source text.

  • After discussing ideas with your classmates, make sure that anything you then write is your own thoughts and language.

  • When using common knowledge information, ask yourself whether it’s something that just you know, or if your reader is likely to know it too. Be careful about obscure facts - if most people don’t know it, it’s not common knowledge and should be cited.

  • When paraphrasing, double check the information against the original material -- if there are more than two words in row that are the same, it’s plagiarism!

When in doubt, cite!  


Download the PDF: Plagiarism.pdf

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