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English and American Literature

A resource guide for the study of English and American Literature.

What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism (pronounced: play-juh-riz-um) is the act of taking someone else’s words, ideas, or information and passing them off as your own. If you don’t give credit to the author of these ideas in footnotes or endnotes and a bibliography, you are committing plagiarism, which is a serious academic offense.

Everything you find that is written, whether in print in books and journals, or on the web, should be considered copyrighted. That means that you should think of it as belonging to someone else. Information that you find on the web is not free to take or use – it is someone else’s intellectual property. Any material lifted from an original source, including web resources, without proper acknowledgement or credit is considered plagiarized. Inadvertent or accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism. Plagiarism can inadvertently happen if you are not careful about taking notes while you research; it is sometimes difficult to remember exactly where your ideas came from when you are doing research, so remember to cite your sources while you work.

It is your responsibility to know what constitutes plagiarism. Not knowing citation standards is not an excuse. When in doubt, err on the side of over-documentation and cite the source. You can also ask your professor, teaching assistant, or a librarian for help in determining what is and is not plagiarism.

When Should You Cite Your Sources?

Sometimes your professor or your discipline will have specific requirements about when and how to cite your sources. However, these are some guidelines that generally apply.

Always cite your sources when:

  • You quote verbatim from someone else's work.
  • You summarize or paraphrase someone else's work.
  • You are conveying information which may be unfamiliar to your reader (e.g. statistics or factual data).
  • You are not sure whether or not you need to cite. As mentioned above, when in doubt, err on the side of caution. It is better to give your reader more information rather than less.

Remember, if you have a question about whether or not you need to cite your source, you can ask your professor, teaching assistant, or a librarian for help. Sometimes citing your sources takes a little bit of time and effort, but it is worth it to avoid plagiarism.

Partially adapted from "When and Why to Cite Sources." SUNY Albany. 2008. Retrieved 29 Aug 2020.

Why Should You Cite Your Sources?

All scholarly or academic work requires that you cite your sources, whether you are writing a long paper or a quick report. Why is citing your research so important?

Researching and writing a paper ideally involves a process of exploring and learning. By citing your sources, you are showing your reader how you came to your conclusions and acknowledging the other people's work that brought you to your conclusions.

Citing your sources...

  • Documents your research and scholarship
  • Acknowledges the work of others whose scholarship contributed to your work
  • Helps your reader understand the context of your argument
  • Provides information for your reader to use to locate additional information on your topic
  • Establishes the credibility of your scholarship
  • Provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your own integrity and understanding of academic ethics

Partially adapted from "When and Why to Cite Sources." SUNY Albany. 2008. Retrieved 29 Aug 2020.

Bart says . . .

Bart Simpson writing "I will not plagiarize another's work" repeatedly on a chalkboard