V. Giving Credit To Avoid Plagiarism

Definition of Plagiarism
Learning means finding out what you and other people have discovered about the world. Your first and primary sources are, of course, your own experiences and imagination, although even those, it can be argued, are influenced by the perceptions of those who came before you. When you consciously use those sources created by others, then you need to give credit to those sources. Doing so is not only fair; it is also moral, ethical, legal, and an academic requirement.

Not to give credit, wholly or partially, is to commit plagiarism, which basically means stealing (or literally, “kidnapping”) from others. The people who have done the work deserve the credit for it. People who get caught trying to pass off others' work as their own can fail assignments, fail courses, ruin their reputations, and even be taken to court. The legal system “copyrights” the efforts of writers, musicians, and artists, and there have been many cases where the plagiarist paid in hard cash as well as reputation.

What you need to learn is how and when to give credit to sources. While the methods may seem complicated at first, keep in mind that they are, in most cases, fairly traditional, have been learned and used by millions before you, can be found in various sources (print and electronic), and are understood by many people on campus (like your professor and the librarians) who will be glad to help you. You can also seek assistance in the Writing Center .

Your work can be labeled plagiarized if one of the following occurs:

  1. A passage is copied word-for-word (or, in music, note-for-note, or, in art, line-by line) from someone else's work, whether the source is printed, recorded, visual, or electronic, and that source is not given credit in the required ways.
  2. A passage paraphrases a source (rewords or restates the content and ideas without using the author's words) without giving credit to the source in the required ways.
  3. The work is based on sources but does not give credit to any of them.
  4. The work closely follows the organization of ideas or concepts in someone else's work without giving credit to that source.
  5. The work has been composed, wholly or in part, by someone other than the person who submits it. This includes collaborative efforts: if a project was generated by several people, all of them must be given credit.
  6. The work is “patched together” from one or more electronic sources, none of which are credited. These sources may be downloaded or printed out, or purchased wholly from a “research paper retailer.”

Definition Of Common Knowledge
Common knowledge is information that is widely known and available undocumented in several sources, such as the fact that smoking increases one's risk of developing lung cancer. It consists of information available in a variety of standard reference books. This information may cover historical events (not documents), folklore, and generally-accepted facts. Common knowledge need not be documented unless the research paper writer cites data such as statistics about death risks from smoking or other research-based findings.

Ways to Give Credit
Giving credit to a source is called documentation. The following are guidelines as to which documentation is required:

MCC Guide to Writing Research Papers.
Developed by: M. DiSano, A. Penwarden, S. Callan.
Revised version August 2006. Copyright Monroe Community College.