Appendix B: Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a very serious violation of academic integrity.  It can also be a complex problem for students to understand and to avoid.  In an academic setting, plagiarism occurs when the words, ideas, or data of another writer, speaker, or researcher–whether published or unpublished–are presented as one's own.  Such an act of misrepresentation without proper acknowledgement is a violation of academic integrity at Roanoke College.  Students are therefore expected to submit their own work, in their own words, and in their own original format.

Any sources used in the preparation and presentation of a student's work must be carefully and thoroughly acknowledged with the proper documentation.  Merely to copy a passage, however brief, without proper documentation or acknowledgement and without quotation marks is a flagrant form of plagiarism.  This includes drafts unless otherwise explicitly communicated by the instructor.

Plagiarism is abhorred by the academic community because it is antithetical to the principles of liberal education and intellectual freedom and also because it is immoral behavior that deceives the reader regarding the actual authorship of the work being presented.

Students will, of course, find it necessary to “borrow” words and ideas–with proper acknowledgement–from written materials and other sources.  That borrowing will generally take one of two forms: direct quotation or paraphrasing.  Any time a writer uses the exact language of another author--even only a short phrase--the writer must enclose this language within quotation marks and include appropriate source documentation. A paraphrase is a complete restatement (rewriting/restructuring) of a borrowed idea in one's own words.  Since the idea is not original, however, there must also be appropriate source documentation to acknowledge that borrowing.

Examples of Plagiarism and Acceptable Paraphrase


Consider the following passage, taken directly from Stewart (162):

The principal part of the Terry command was one of the
most, if not the most, famous regiments in the history of the
United States Army–The Seventh Cavalry.  Organized under
an act of Congress on July 18, 1866, the regiment was
activated at Fort Riley, Kansas, later in the same year, and
from the beginning was intended for service against the
Indians of the Great Plains.  At first there were only eight
companies, but this number was soon increased to twelve,
although the entire regiment had never been all together until
the expedition of 1876 against hostile Sioux and Cheyennes.

Now consider this excerpt from a student's paper:

The main part of Terry's command was the most famous outfit
in the U.S. Army's history, the 7th cavalry.  It was organized
on July 18, 1866, by an act of Congress.  It was made active
in Fort Riley, Kansas, that same year.  From the start it was
intended to move against the Plains Indians.  Only eight com-
panies at first, the 7th was increased to twelve companies, but
the whole regiment was not together until 1876 with the
expedition against the Cheyennes and Sioux (Stewart 162).

A comparison of the original version with the version above will reveal that the student has committed plagiarism.  The same format has been employed, and much of the wording is the same.  Either the student has made an attempt to disguise the original, or the passage is insufficient as a paraphrase.  The paragraph is not in the student's own words, and, therefore, even though documentation is provided, the student work constitutes plagiarism.

The excerpt shown below is an acceptable paraphrase.  There is a complete rewording of the original, from which only salient details have been extracted.  These details, moreover, are adapted to the student's purpose, which is slightly different from that of the original.  It is also appropriately documented.

The third prong of the campaign left Fort Abraham Lincoln
(Dakota Territory) in May 1876 and was commanded by Gen-
eral Alfred Terry.  Forming the fighting nucleus of General
Terry's Column was the noted Seventh Cavalry, commanded
by George Armstrong Custer.  It was now at its full regimental
strength of twelve companies for the first time since its crea-
tion in 1866 (Stewart 162).  Terry had orders to march west-
ward to join Gibbon and Crook.

Guidelines to Avoid Plagiarism

    1. Students must use quotation marks when required and citations to indicate sources of material on all work submitted to their instructor for evaluation and grading.  This includes drafts unless otherwise explicitly communicated by the instructor.
    2. Quotation marks should always be used to set off words that are borrowed directly, even though only one or two words are involved.
    3. The source of words or ideas should always be acknowledged in the text of the presentation, in an appropriate footnote or endnote, or in both.
    4. A bibliography by itself is not sufficient documentation because it does not inform the reader of the specific uses of the works in it.  Some textual or notational system (such as footnotes, endnotes, or the author-date method) must be employed to cite when and how specific portions of sources are used.  Most systems of documentation require page numbers for all citations.  All systems of documentation require page numbers for direct quotations (if they exist).
    5. As a rule, anything students learn while they are preparing an assignment should be considered as material that must be documented, even if this material is paraphrased.  It is important to remember that adequate documentation must include exact page numbers.
    6. Matters of common or general knowledge usually do not require documentation.  In A Writer's Reference (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), Diana Hacker defines common knowledge as “information that readers could find in any number of general sources because it is commonly known” (170).  If in doubt about whether or not information is common knowledge, provide documentation.
    7. Prior knowledge does not usually require formal documentation (yet it is always a good idea for the student to consult the professor if there are doubts or questions about what constitutes prior knowledge).  Most often a textual reference to the source will suffice for such prior knowledge. If, for example, a student wants to refer to a debate as being “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” the student can merely mention MacBeth as the source, presuming the student knew these lines and their source prior to the preparation of the work being submitted.  Note that quotation marks would be used (as they are for all direct quotations).
    8. Words, ideas, data, or material acquired in other courses should be acknowledged as to their specific source.  The professor should be contacted regarding the most appropriate method for documenting such material.
    9. As a general rule, if the student has doubt about whether or not to acknowledge a particular source, it is wise to document that source.  Again, consult the instructor of the course if such a question arises.
    10. Consult a composition handbook or a publication manual for appropriate forms of documentation, as these differ from discipline to discipline.  If the professor does not specify that a particular notational format be used, the student should ask the professor what format is most appropriate.