Department of History Model Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious academic offense because it leaves the impression you have thought or written something that in fact has been thought or written by someone else.  The original meaning of the word was “to kidnap.”  If you use someone else’s words or specific terms, phrases or sentences, statistics in various forms, ideas or arguments without acknowledging the author or source, you are guilty of plagiarism.  The penalty can be severe, ranging all the way from failure in the particular exercise to expulsion from the university.

It is not difficult to recognize plagiarism.  What makes the theft so tempting to a student also makes it easy to identify:  a sophisticated style and choice of words, the knowledgeability of the author, the use of concise and qualified arguments, or the convenience of the Internet.  It is in the very nature of an instructor’s professional expertise to be sensitive to these elements, and to be capable of finding the original source.  In short, the risk of discovery is very high.

But as often as not, students plagiarize unintentionally.  Sometimes it is because they are uninformed about the rules of the citation.  Sometimes they are misled by high-school assignments, which may have allowed “copying” material from reference books.  In order to avoid an accusation of plagiarism, keep a few basic rules in mind.

  1. When you depend on any source—other than yourself or generally-accepted facts—for the information or opinions that appear in your work, you must acknowledge that source in the text and/or cite it in a footnote.
  2. If you use a word-for-word quotation, it must be enclosed in quotation marks and cited.
  3. If you paraphrase a source, that is, merely alter its text or ideas by adding or deleting words, or reorganizing the material, you must make that clear to the reader through an explicit statement or a footnote.
  4. If you summarize a passage, the reader should be informed, and the passage cited.
  5. All theories, interpretations, and coinages of key terms must be attributed to their authors.
  6. Use of graphs, tables, charts and illustrations must be credited.
  7. You must cite information or opinions from electronic resources (websites, electronic journals, email) as you would any other source.  Talk to your instructor about the potential pitfalls of some electronic resources.
  8. When in doubt, cite; or ask your instructor for guidance.

These rules of usage are not meaningless demands.  They allow the reader to judge the quality and scope of your research, as well as the originality and intellectual merit of your own effort.  Proper citation permits the reader to see the balance you’ve struck among the elements of evidence, argument, and presentation.

For further discussion of plagiarism and citing sources correctly, with examples, consult the following:

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