Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

According to the Aggie Honor System Office, Plagiarism is "The appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit." Plagiarism is just one form of academic misconduct; plagiarism and cheating are perhaps the most commonly practiced.

The most prevalent form of plagiarism occurs when a writer neglects to credit the author textual sources in a term paper or writing assignment. Plagiarism applies to written or electronic text found in books, journals, magazines, newspapers, web sites, etc. However, it also pertains to visual documents such as photographs, charts, graphs, drawings, statistics and material taken from lectures, interviews or television programs. In other words, it covers all created sources.

Less experienced writers may commit plagiarism as a result of an incomplete or poor knowledge of citation and documentation standards or because they are incorporating standards from one field or culture inappropriately into another. Inexperienced writers may also be unsure of the difference between direct quotation, paraphrasing, and summary. Poor notetaking habits may also lead to plagiarism.

It is your responsibility as an author, and yours alone, to acknowledge and document your sources. In other words, if you use another person's ideas or words, you must tell the reader which words or ideas you borrowed, from whom, and where he or she might find the text you used.

Plagiarism Guidelines

Any time you use ideas or words that appear in a document written by someone else, you must formally reference that work (document), even if it is not something that has been published. Whether the ideas were written about by a recognized expert in your field, or by a person who is "unknown" (for example, another student whose paper is unpublished), you must cite any words or ideas that did not originate with you.

If you paraphrase (put into your own words) another person's ideas, you must still provide a reference citation. Be careful that your paraphrasing is not so close to the original that it would be better to simply use a direct quotation with quotation marks. (Leaving off quotation marks is a large error, even if you have made a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence or passage; you could face a charge of plagiarism for such an omission.)

If you are given an example or model of the work (such as a lab report) that you are going to produce, you may use the format to guide your own work, but you should not use any portion of the text or ideas in your own work (except for well-known and accepted phrases and terms used in your field), unless you cite the example in your own written report. If you plan to quote or paraphrase an example or model provided for you by your instructor, make sure that they will allow you to use the example in this way. (Typically, they will want you to write it in your own words and using your own ideas.)

Researchers should cite themselves when they are building upon previous research. This clarifies what information is new and where the previous information is published. While students need not cite their own previously written papers, standards of academic honesty would indicate that they should refrain from submitting the same paper in another course, without the permission of the instructor.

Common Knowledge

Citing information that is common knowledge is generally not required UNLESS 1) you intend to discuss the information at length, 2) an individual is credited with the discovery (i.e., Einstein's Theory of Relativity), 3) you are uncertain whether your audience may be familiar with the information or 4) you think that the particular piece of information is in question or might be debatable.

Examples of common knowledge include:

  • The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.
  • The Earth is the third planet from the Sun.
  • The chemical formula for water is H2O.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island.

Citation Styles

Every field of study has its own preferred style for citing and referencing. The humanities (such as the study of English Literature) normally use MLA style; social sciences (like Psychology) use APA style; CBE is preferred by Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Geology; while history and other natural sciences use Chicago Style.

Consult with your instructor or other scholars in your field of study to determine which style you should use. Then either purchase a guide or use an online guide that will help you in using that style consistently. Keep in mind that instructors of the various classes that you take may ask you to use styles that are different from each other (depending on the instructors' preferences), so you may need to be able to switch between styles for projects in different classes.

Information on citation styles is also available from the Library and the University Writing Center.

If you ever have questions about how to cite something properly, always consult with the faculty member who gave you the assignment BEFORE you turn it in. It is important that the faculty member know you are struggling with the citations and are trying to do it correctly before the project is submitted. Once submitted, an assignment is considered finished, and if the instructor discovers referencing errors or omissions, you could be accused of plagiarizing and subject to sanctions.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Some ways to avoid plagiarism:

  • Keep detailed records of your research; document your sources as you do your research.
  • Keep thorough documentation of your writing; outlines and drafts of your paper represent your effort as the paper evolves.
  • Cite all quotations.
  • Cite all sources you have either summarized or paraphrased.
  • Cite ideas that you have employed.
  • Cite information from sources such as speeches, interviews, photographs, films, laboratory procedures, software programs, musical or dramatic compositions, audio or visual media, works of art or architecture, maps, statistical tables, Web pages, electronic databases or any other source that was created by someone else.

As a writer, you plagiarize when you use the work of others without giving them appropriate credit. You also plagiarize when you don't give complete citation of a source. Incorrect formatting of a citation is quite often just a stylistic error and not necessarily plagiarism, but an erroneous or incomplete citation is still incorrect.

While acts of plagiarism may also be an infringement of copyright, plagiarism and copyright are not synonymous. Plagiarism in the act of presenting someone else's work as your own (by neglecting to give attribution), whereas copyright is the law that protects ownership of the work.

Key point: Plagiarism applies to all information regardless of format; photographs, charts, graphs, drawings, statistics, verbal exchanges such as interviews or lectures, performances on television or live, and texts whether in print or on the web must all be documented appropriately.

Getting Help

Lack of knowledge of academic honesty standards is analogous to ignorance of the law: it is no excuse and the repercussions can be severe.

If you are unsure or confused about documenting an assignment, it is your responsibility to ask your instructor for clarification or assistance. In addition, Librarians, Reference Desk Staff and Writing Center Consultants can offer additional help in documenting in your research and writing.

Why Citing Properly Is Important

Citing properly is important for several reasons:

  • It indicates scholarly support of your own arguments.
  • It differentiates between someone else's ideas and your own.
  • Intellectual property standards indicate that attribution be given when using someone else's material.
  • The correct citation may be needed by a reader to verify or find more material on the topic.

Acknowledgement and Citation of Sources

There are a number of acceptable ways to acknowledge a source, thereby avoiding plagiarism, but without interrupting the flow of your own writing.

  1. Use an attribution tag.

    Introduce a direct quote or a paraphrase with a tag that lets the reader know you are using someone else's words or ideas. You don't have to use an attribution tag. Do so when it helps add credibility to your argument. Attribution is particularly helpful when quoting a source that is quoting someone else.

    For example, the Aggie Daily for April 10, 2003 provides an attribution tag that identifies the credentials of the source:

    Mary Ciani Saslow, who specializes in teaching color and creativity in the Visualization Program at Texas A&M's College of Architecture, initially began studying children's foods for their aesthetic qualities, but soon found that when it comes to nutrition all that glitters is clearly not gold. "It's hard to separate the seductive beauty of these packages from the manufactured products they contain," explains Saslow. "Once children and parents figure out the difference between outside and inside they will be armed to know what is real and what isn't, what is nutritious and what causes obesity and diabetes".

    This sample text (written by Ryan Garcia and taken verbatim from the Aggie Daily article) illustrates the use of an attribution tag within the text.

  2. Use quotation marks (")

    ...every time you use words or phrases from the original source. This is called a direct quote, and it is used in the attribution tag example, above. For more details on direct quoting (and attribution tags), see the information on the University Writing Center website.

  3. Paraphrase.

    If you don't use quotation marks, you may still be citing someone else by means of paraphrase. (See the University Writing Center website for more details). For example, we might paraphrase Dr. Saslow's comments (from the attribution tag example above) as follows:

    According to one expert on color and creativity, parents should be educated to read food packages so that their purchases of children's food is based on nutritional content rather than on pleasing design and packaging (Garcia).

  4. Use parenthetical in-text citation or footnotes/endnotes

    (Depending on the style preferred by your instructor). The use of parenthetical in-text citation (referring to a bibliography at the end of the paper), footnotes or endnotes lead your reader to a list of the works you used in your research. The two examples above both include parenthetical in-text citation with the employment of (Garcia) after the quoted or paraphrased information.

    In addition, be sure to include the complete citation of the work in your Bibliography or Works Cited. The source listed in the examples above would appear as:

    Garcia, Ryan. "With Children's Nutrition, All That Glitters Is Not Gold." Aggie Daily 20 April 2003. <>.

  5. Always include a list of the works you used to prepare your document.

    In some styles this is done with a Bibliography and footnotes. Other styles use internal citation and Works Cited, Works Consulted, or References.

    You may find that you don't cite every source you consult during your research. This is often the case with reference works such as encyclopedias. Some writers prefer to list all works they consulted. (Thus, in some styles they use the "Works Consulted" title). Others prefer to list only those works they have actually cited, directly or through paraphrase, in which case they may use the "Works Cited" title. Likewise, some lists of "References" will include only works cited, and others will also include works consulted but not cited. Both approaches are acceptable. As long as the reader can trace any significant influences from the sources you used, and any direct or indirect uses of other's ideas or words, you have not plagiarized.

    Listing items that you did not use is considered 'padding' a bibliography and should be avoided as it is looked upon with the same disapproval as plagiarism. However, if you have consulted some valuable sources that you may not have quoted, paraphrased or otherwise used in your paper, they may be included under the heading of Works Consulted. The challenge, however, is that the ideas you use in your paper should not reflect the content of these works. If what you write mirrors the perspectives, ideas, or conclusions of a work you have consulted, you should cite the source.

Referencing Electronic Resources

Electronic information has created a dilemma with research and attribution. Just like any other authored text or creation, web pages are copyrighted and need to be cited. To go one step further, it is also necessary to cite the format of an item – for example, if an article is available in a print journal and in a database, the citation must indicate which version was used.

For example, a citation of information from a Web page:

“INFOGRAPHIC: Understanding the Grid.” 2016. Accessed April 1.

For example, a citation of an article in an electronic journal or full-text database:

Schneider, W, et al. "Kindergarten Prevention Of Dyslexia: Does Training In Phonological Awareness Work For Everybody?." Journal Of Learning Disabilities 32.5 (1999): 429-436 8p. CINAHL Complete. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.

Additional Help with Citing Sources

The Texas A&M University Libraries have created several Citation Guides to various citation styles (APA, MLA, CMOS, etc.) commonly required for papers as well as providing some helpful information with citing electronic resources. The University Writing Center has also compiled a webliography of helpful sites with information on the Research & Documentation, including information on citation styles.

It is important for international students to be aware that the rules regarding the use and acknowledgment of other people's work may be different than those in their native culture. While in many cultures the use and repetition of an expert's words is considered to be a way of honoring and valuing that individual's work, in the United States, any unacknowledged use of another person's ideas, words, data, or graphics (i.e. lacking an internal citation and bibliographical reference) is plagiarism.

Continue to Part 4: Examples and Cases of Plagiarism

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