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Plagiarism definitions

University definitions of scholastic dishonesty and plagiarism

The University of Minnesota's Student Conduct Code classifies scholastic dishonesty as a disciplinary offense actionable by the University. Scholastic dishonesty includes plagiarism:

Scholastic dishonesty means plagiarism; cheating on assignments or examinations; engaging in unauthorized collaboration on academic work; taking, acquiring, or using test materials without faculty permission; submitting false or incomplete records of academic achievement; acting alone or in cooperation with another to falsify records or to obtain dishonestly grades, honors, awards, or professional endorsement; altering, forging, misrepresenting, or misusing a University academic record; or fabricating or falsifying data, research procedures, or data analysis.

Plagiarism is defined as follows:

Plagiarism shall mean representing the words, creative work, or ideas of another person as one’s own without providing proper documentation of source. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Copying information word for word from a source without using quotation marks and giving proper acknowledgement by way of footnote, endnote, or in-text citation; 
  • Representing the words, ideas, or data of another person as one’s own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, in-text citation, or footnote;
  • Producing, without proper attribution, any form of work originated by another person such as a musical phrase, a proof, a speech, an image, experimental data, laboratory report, graphic design, or computer code;
  • Paraphrasing, without sufficient acknowledgment, ideas taken from another person that the reader might reasonably mistake as the author’s; and
  • Borrowing various words, ideas, phrases, or data from original sources and blending them with one’s own without acknowledging the sources. 

It is the responsibility of all students to understand the standards and methods of proper attribution and to clarify with each instructor the standards, expectations, and reference techniques appropriate to the subject area and class requirements, including group work and internet use.  Students are encouraged to seek out information about these methods from instructors and other resources and to apply this information in all submissions of academic work.

Definitions of plagiarism from non-university sources

The following are definitions and illustrations of plagiarism from selected handbooks available to accompany writing courses and writing-intensive courses. Students should ask instructors to recommend handbooks appropriate to specific disciplines; some professional organizations (e.g., IEEE in engineering and the Associated Press) have their own style guides with more definitions and illustrations.

MLA Handbook

The MLA Handbook defines plagiarism as the use of another person's ideas or expressions in your writing without giving proper credit to the source. The word comes from the Latin word plagiarius (“kidnapper”), and Alexander Lindey defines it as “the false assumption of authorship: the wrongful act of taking the product of another person's mind, and presenting it as one's own” (Plagiarism and Originality [New York: Harper, 1952] 2). “In short, to plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from someone else.” This can include paraphrasing, copying someone else's writing word for word, or using ideas that aren't your own without proper citation. Plagiarism is often unintentional, and bad research habits can form early in elementary school. Unfortunately, these bad habits can continue throughout high school and college and may result in severe consequences, from failure in a course to expulsion. To avoid these consequences, always cite your sources if you are unsure if you are plagiarizing (Gibaldi and Achtert 21-25).

(Gibaldi, Joseph, and Walter S. Achtert. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 3rd ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1988. 21-25.)

APA Manual

The APA Manual gives the following principle for avoiding plagiarism:

Plagiarism (Principle 6.22)

Quotation marks should be used to indicate the exact words of another. Summarizing a passage or rearranging the order of a sentence and changing some of the words is paraphrasing. Each time a source is paraphrased, a credit for the source needs to be included in the text. The key element of this principle is that an author does not present the work of another as if it were his or her own work. This can extend to ideas as well as written words. If an author models a study after one done by someone else, the originating author should be given credit. If the rationale for a study was suggested in the Discussion section of someone else's article, that person should be given credit. Given the free exchange of ideas, which is very important to the health of psychology, an author may not know where an idea for a study originated. If the author does know, however, the author should acknowledge the source; this includes personal communications. (Publication Manual 292-95)

(Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 1995. 292-95.)

The St. Martin's Handbook

According to the St. Martin's Handbook's Annotated Instructor's Edition, "Plagiarism is the use of someone else's words as your own without crediting the original writer for those words" (566). This Handbook also gives good suggestions about when to credit someone else's ideas and when not to:

Materials not requiring credit

Common knowledge

If other people like you know the material you are including (e.g., who is President of the U.S., what “capital punishment” means, etc.) you do not need to include a citation. If, on the other hand, you are giving specific data about a President's policies and their impact, or citing the number of people executed in a particular state over a set time period, you should include a citation to document the source where you found this specific information.

Facts available in a wide variety of sources

Information that is commonly available in encyclopedias, almanacs, and textbooks does not need a citation. For example, if you wrote that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 23, 1963, in Texas, you would not need to cite a source. If you went on to discuss a theory about a conspiracy behind the assassination, you would then need to cite your source.

Your own findings from field research.

Facts or results from your own research can be credited to yourself.

Materials requiring credit

Direct quotations

Always credit the source when you directly quote another person. If you are paraphrasing but using a quote in the middle of a sentence, be sure to set the quote off with quotation marks.

Assertions that are arguable or facts that are not widely known

If other people like you would not know the information, include a citation. In addition, include a citation if you use material that may not be true (e.g., an author asserts that the CIA conspired to kill John F. Kennedy).

Judgments, opinions, and claims of others

Credit the ideas and opinions of others. Even if you summarize someone else's opinion in your own words, the idea does not belong to you and needs to be cited.

Statistics, charts, tables, and graphs from any source

Include a citation for all information included in graphs and other statistical material.

Information or help provided by friends, instructors, or others

Anyone who assists in the development of your ideas or research deserves credit. Instructors and friends can be valuable sources in your research. Don't forget to acknowledge their contribution. (566)

(Lunsford, Andrea, and Robert Connors. The St. Martin's Handbook. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1989. 566-7.)