On plagiarism

Except for assignments expressly calling for collaborative effort, all written work in this class must be your own. Any unacknowledged "borrowing" from the writings of others is a violation of academic integrity, and penalties for plagiarism are severe, ranging from an F for the course to expulsion from the college.

Plagiarism is a serious matter. I take it seriously, and I will insist that you take academic honesty seriously in all of your work throughout this course.

In addition to reading this page carefully, you might find much of great use in this Plagiarism Awareness and Prevention Guide posted by Affordable Colleges Online.


Each of us knows that cheating is morally wrong. Still, an astounding number of college students admit to cheating on tests or papers. According to Plagiarism.org, "A study by The Center for Academic Integrity found that almost 80% of college students admit to cheating at least once," and the results of another survey indicate that 84% of college students "admitted to cheating on written assignments" (http://www.plagiarism.org/learning_center/did_you_know.html).

Beyond the moral issue of cheating being a form of lying, plagiarism is a significant problem for the following additional reasons:

a) Even when they "succeed" in cheating and not getting caught, plagiarists shortchange themselves by not preparing their own written work. If lucky, they may receive good or at least passing grades for plagiarized work, but they miss out on the important learning intended in the writing assignment: they shortchange themselves by not involving themselves fully in some or all of whatever processes the assignment entails in critical thinking, research and manipulation of sources, and the writing process itself. Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of college coursework is that students learn, not that they "achieve grades."

b) Plagiarists disrespect and penalize their classmates who do their own work. It is disrespectful of one's peers to have the attitude that "you can do the work yourself if you want, but I'm going to take a shortcut. If you work your butt off and I get the same grade you do or better, that's your problem, sucker, not mine." In competitive environments particularly, it is extremely selfish and disrespectful of others to have your work compared to theirs when "your work" is not your own. If you are a selfish and disrespectful person, it's you who have ultimately to live with the consequences of these character flaws, and in time, severe as they may be, the potential consequences of plagiarism are probably the least of the problems these traits will cause for you over your lifetime. . . .

c) Plagiarists are blatantly disrespecting and insulting the intelligence of their readers—i.e. their teachers and professors, in the academic environment. Plagiarists disrespect their instructors by saying in effect, "here, spend your valuable time and energy reading and grading this work even though it's not my own. I'm not paying tuition for you to respond to my work so that I can learn from the exercise, I'm paying you to give me a grade. I may read your comments with some curiosity, certainly, but they won't really matter to me since I'll know that the work isn't really mine in the first place."

Plagiarists who "get away" with their dishonesty typically congratulate themselves on outsmarting their readers. The experience level of your professors will vary, but I promise you that if your reader is a qualified college professor, he or she is likely to be highly intelligent—perhaps more so than you realize. Further, I guarantee you that any professor who reads your work carefully over the course of a semester in a variety of contexts—in class and out of class assignments, informal and formal assignments, emails and quizzes, etc.—will almost certainly recognize inconsistencies and irregularities in the level of your work in both language and content. That is, your professors are likely to notice if your language seems suddenly either more sophisticated or less sophisticated than is the norm established in your other work—just as they are likely to notice if the insights you offer in one assignment are appreciably more keen or sophisticated than in others. Trying to pass off someone else's work as your own suggests that you think your professor is not smart enough to notice—underestimating the intelligence or perceptiveness of your professor in this fashion can have dire consequences for you.

We're all morally flawed, I myself can attest at length, I assure you. And almost all of us prefer to take an easier road than a difficult one when given a choice between the two. It's natural that we all be selfish sometimes—and concern for the self is healthy, within limits. We all probably think we are more clever than we are in some circumstances—and we probably all misjudge the perceptiveness of those around us at times.

Still, despite all of our normal human imperfections, in this class I will insist upon your scrupulous honesty in all of your work. This document is formal notification that if I discover that you have plagiarized any of your work, you will receive an F for the course and your case will be submitted to MGA's Student Conduct Officer for possible disciplinary sanctions.

According to the MGSC Student Handbook, plagiarism is, simply put, "using another's phrasing, concepts or line of reasoning as your own without giving proper credit to the author or creator" (35). To ensure that we all understand what plagiarism is more precisely, I have outlined and illustrated below a more specific definition of different types of plagiarism. The quoted items 1-4 are taken directly from the Guide to Freshman English published by the College of Charleston.

Be mindful that you have been asked or will be asked to sign a formal acknowledgment that you understand and accept this four-point definition of plagiarism. If you have any questions or any uncertainty about any part or any aspect of the following, absolutely do let me know right away.

"1. Plagiarism includes the literal repetition without acknowledgment of the writings of another author. All significant phrases, clauses, or passages taken directly from source material must be enclosed in quotation marks and acknowledged in the text."

Example 1
Student A's paper on Charlotte Brontë's novel, Jane Eyre:
"Jane is aware of other passionate feelings that she still has for Rochester. She is not a woman who would deny herself any emotion she has. Jane would never sacrifice her own integrity for the sake of emotional gratification."

Sparknotes commentary:
"Jane believes that 'marrying' Rochester while he remains legally tied to Bertha would mean rendering herself a mistress and sacrificing her own integrity for the sake of emotional gratification" (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/janeeyre/themes.html).

Student A's semester grade: F. Student A faces dismissal from Middle Georgia State in disgrace.

Copying from the writings of others is the most basic and obvious form of plagiarism—you have probably known from childhood that it is dishonest to take someone else's writing word for word and attempt to pass it off as your own. When you take any significant passages from others' writings, you must put them in quotation marks and acknowledge the source as explained on my quotes and documentation web page. Methods of acknowledging the sources of the quotations vary from discipline to discipline—some use footnotes, some use end notes, and some use the APA or Chicago Style methods of documentation, for example. In this class and in other English courses, the MLA method of in-text parenthetical documentation outlined in my "QD" items 1-5 is standard.

"2. Plagiarism includes borrowing without acknowledgment another writer's general plan in the creation of one's own plan."

Example 2
Student B's paper:
Thesis: "Jane Eyre is a Gothic novel in its use of the supernatural, in Mr. Rochester being a Byronic hero, and in Bertha being a lunatic wife."

Topic sentence 1: "The use of the supernatural is a feature of the Gothic novel, and while there are no real ghosts in Jane Eyre, Jane does have supernatural 'visitations' or premonitions."

Topic sentence 2: "Another characteristic in Gothic novels is the presence of a Byronic hero, and Mr. Rochester is clearly a Byronic hero."

Topic sentence 3: "Another Gothic feature of Jane Eyre is the presence of the lunatic wife, in Bertha Mason."

PinkMonkey.com commentary: "Jane Eyre as a Gothic Novel":
Point 1: "In Jane Eyre Edward Rochester represents the Byronic hero with a secret past."

Point 2: "In Jane Eyre, as in many Gothic novels, the reader comes across a lunatic wife (Bertha Rochester) locked in the attic of the manor house."

Point 3: "Another feature of the Gothic novel is the use of the supernatural. There are no ghosts in Jane Eyre, but every phase of Jane's life is preceded by her imagining a supernatural visitation from another world." (http://www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/monkeynotes/pmJaneEyre80.asp).

Outcome: Student B's semester grade: F. Incidental result: Student B was already on academic probation and the F will make her ineligible to return to Middle Georgia State regardless of the disciplinary sanctions she faces from the college.

Clearly, even though Student B didn't quote many passages word for word from the PinkMonkey page, she followed the general outline or plan of the "expert" commentary, making the same basic points in the original source "her" primary points. Relying on PinkMonkey.com as a source is not solid scholarship, but this student could have avoided plagiarism here by acknowledging that her whole approach was suggested by the PinkMonkey. Her grade might not have been strong, but Student B would have probably passed the class and not been forced to leave school.

"3. Plagiarism includes borrowing another's ideas and representing them as one's own. To paraphrase the thought of another writer without acknowledgment is to plagiarize."

Example 3
Student C's paper:
"In anger, Jane cries out, 'You are like a murderer—you are like a slave-driver—you are like the Roman emperors' (Bronte 43). Jane's reference to John as a slave-driver is very fitting because Roman slave-drivers would suppress their slaves while also depriving them of an education. Mrs. Reed physically contains Jane after this whole incident by locking her up in the 'red-room.'"

Paper by Adam S., submitted February 22, 1996 in an English class at Vanderbilt University, stored in the databases at "Turnitin.com," a plagiarism prevention and detection resource to which I subscribe:

"In anger, Jane cries out, 'You are like a murderer—you are like a slave-driver—you are like the Roman emperors' (Bronte 43). In this passage, Jane compares John Reed to a slave-driver because, like a slave-driver, he deprives Jane of her attempt at education and keeps her suppressed. Afterwards, Jane is blamed for the entire incident and experiences true physical containment as she is locked up in the 'red-room.'"

Outcome: Student C's semester grade: F. Student C expelled from the college. Incidental result: Student C is flipping burgers while awaiting to hear if he will be accepted as a transfer student at another school.

Example 4:
Student D's paper:
"In Jane Eyre, Bronte shows that women are able to achieve success and independence on their own, no matter what the odds may be. Jane is able to conquer her obstacles and achieve the life she has always dreamed of."

GradeSaver.com "ClassicNote": "Jane Eyre: The Independent and Successful Woman Of [sic] the Nineteenth Century," by Rebecca Kivak:

"Jane Eyre showed that it was possible for a woman in the nineteenth century to achieve independence and success on her own, no matter what odds were against her. The following paper will . . . explore the obstacles that Jane encounters in her struggle, and show how she is able to overcome them to attain the life she has always dreamed of having" (http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/janeeyre/essays/essay1.html).

Outcome: Student D's semester grade: F. Student D expelled. Incidental result: Student D's parents have taken Student D's car away from her and vowed not to pay her tuition next semester if she can get accepted at another school. Hopefully they will relent. . . .

In some respects, this form of plagiarism, paraphrasing others' words and ideas, is the most egregious or offensive, because it suggests that the student is "sly" or "devious," knowing that the plagiarism is cheating and trying to cover up the cheating by altering the phrasing. Thus the dishonesty is intensified or magnified by the "crafty" attempt at deception. Whenever you paraphrase or restate another's ideas in your own words, you must acknowledge the source even though you are not using any quotation marks.

"4. Plagiarism includes allowing any other person or organization to prepare work which one then submits as his or her own."

Example 5
Student E's paper contained ideas, diction, and grammatical tendencies radically different from the norms established in his previous four essays in the course. It turned out that his mother "helped him" by actually writing substantial portions of Student E's paper.

Student E's semester grade: F. Student E deposited on Eisenhower Parkway and told never to come back.

In different respects, all of the examples above involve the student's allowing another "person or organization to prepare work which [he or she] then submits as his or her own." Even when a specific essay or other written source is not involved, it is still plagiarism to allow a tutor, friend, or parent to write any portion of any written work you turn in as your own. It's okay to have tutors and others respond to your work with criticism and/or encouragement, but once those other persons start dictating specific phrases or actually writing portions of "your work," or even correcting your grammar, spelling, etc., you have crossed the line into plagiarism.

If there is any portion of this explanation of plagiarism you do not understand, speak up now. If you encounter a specific question involving plagiarism at any point in this semester, positively do let me know about it.