Presenting someone else's words or ideas as your own is stealing, and in student work it also defrauds the instructor who grades it and your classmates who are judged on their own merits.
Plagiarism covers a wide range of theft. It is not limited to books and articles, but includes music, lectures, websites, and materials in all media and formats. Whether you are working on a paper or a homework assignment, developing a presentation or a website, it is important to credit your sources. Most cases of plagiarism are intentional, but even if you don't deliberately steal from someone else's work, you are answerable for careless thefts. When in doubt—cite!
Ithaca College defines plagiarism as part of the Standards of Academic Conduct, found in the Ithaca College Policy Manual.
Not all information requires requires citation. Factual information that is “common knowledge”—what your audience can be assumed to know—need not be cited. One simple test of common knowledge is to consult reference works to see if the information is widely reported and undisputed. Keep in mind, however, that common knowledge can change with context. Whereas a principle of physics would need to be cited in an undergraduate paper, the citation might be omitted from a paper presented at a scientific conference.
The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to quote a source word-for-word and set it off in quotation marks. Most citation styles follow a direct quotation with a brief, in-text citation pointing to the full citation in your end notes. Others follow a quotation with a superscript number corresponding to a numbered citation at the bottom of the page or in your end notes.
While direct quotations are a safe way to avoid plagiarism, they should not be too long or pepper your paper. Use them only if they provide a memorable phrase or well-formulated idea.
Paraphrasing is the act, perhaps the art, of rewriting a piece of text in your own words. But it is unacceptable simply to reword, rearrange or abbreviate a text and claim that this makes you the sole author. Plagiarism applies not only to words but also ideas, so paraphrasing a source does not make it your intellectual property. You must still provide in-text citations and full end notes for sources from which you have lifted observations or lines of argument—even in the absence of direct quotation.
There are dozens of citation styles, some of which are specific to a discipline or even a publisher. At Ithaca College, there is no one style used by all schools or even within departments. The most widely used are MLA (Humanities), APA (Social Sciences), and Chicago (including a variation known as Turabian). Always check with your instructor to see which citation style is required.
Citing is important not only because it avoids the act of plagiarism, but also because it acknowledges those who have contributed to your work, showcases the breadth and depth of your research, and serves as a road-map to readers who wish to consult your sources for themselves. Citing demonstrates that you are participating in and contributing to an ongoing dialogue on your topic. It is more than just a safeguard of intellectual property; it is an affirmation of civility, openness, and honesty.
See our Citation page for more information.
Want to test your understanding of plagiarism? Take the quiz!