Conversations about most any topic you can imagine are going on all around us, but we do not notice them because they are generally happening in print, in journals and books held in academic libraries around the world. By enrolling in college and taking a class, you are signaling your desire to enter into some of these conversations. You are of course most welcome to join in, but because students enter these conversations mostly by writing papers for classes, those instructors and students already conversing will expect you to follow their established customs.
Plagiarism, put simply, is willfully misrepresenting yourself in these conversations by suggesting that certain words or ideas are your own when they are not. You avoid plagiarism by understanding and following the citation conventions of the discipline within which you are writing. Citation conventions were developed by professors and teachers to help people find the original sources of ideas and information discussed in academia; citations record what has gone before in the conversation. Failure to acknowledge this history in your own writing is plagiarism.
There are certainly degrees of plagiarism, from an innocent overly-close paraphrase of another author’s words to an entire paper cravenly downloaded from an internet cheating site. Also, intentions do matter in deciding what constitutes plagiarism and what is simply an error in citation conventions: students do sometimes fail to cite or use quotation marks purely from carelessness or lack of understanding. Still, ultimately your writing must speak for itself, and you will be judged by what you submit as your own work. Pleading ignorance will not protect you from having to face the same consequences as the student who willfully cheats. The following information is therefore designed to help you avoid both unintentional plagiarism and the temptations and frustrations that lead to intentional plagiarism.
For all matters of citation and usage, Adelphi University has adopted Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, 5th edition, (Bedford/St Martin’s Press) as our “default” handbook. (“Default handbook” means that students can assume its guidelines are in place unless explicitly told otherwise by the instructor of a particular class.) All incoming freshmen are required to buy a copy, and all other undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to do so.