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Avoiding Plagiarism



What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of using another person's ideas or work without ackowledging the original source and giving proper credit. It is unethical and, in some cases, it is illegal. Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty, and it is considered by the University at Buffalo to be a serious offense. University policies related to plagiarism are available on the University's Academic Integrity web site.

It is the nature of college coursework that students are engaged in the ideas and works of other people. However, using another person's works or ideas without citing the original source and giving proper credit, whether intentional or not, and regardless of the context or the format, is plagiarism.


How should students avoid plagiarism?

Students must carefully read class assignments to ascertain their instructors' preferences in terms of citation style. If there is any question, students are strongly encouraged to speak with their instructors for clarification.

To avoid plagiarism, students must provide proper credit when using:

  • another person's ideas, opinons, or theories;
  • any information that is not common knowledge (e.g., facts, statistics, graphs, illustrations);
  • quotations of another person's spoken or written words; or
  • paraphrases of another person's spoken or written words.

Students who require assistance in providing proper credit should consult the University at Buffalo Libraries' Citing Sources web guide.


What is and what is not considered plagiarism?

Grateful ackowledement is given to the office of Writing Tutorial Services at Indiana University-Bloomington for their permission to use the following examples of what does and what does not constitute plagiarism.

An example of plagiarism:

The following paragraph is original text from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s by Joyce Williams, et al.:

The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry came urbanization the growth of large cities (like Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade.

The following paragraph is a plagiarized version of the original text above:

The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and the explosion of the population were three large factors of nineteenth century America. As steam-driven companies became more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities like Fall River where the Bordens lived which turned into centers of commerce and trade as well as production.

What makes this paragraph plagiarism? It is unacceptable because the writer has:

  • only changed around a few words and phrases
  • only changed the order of the original's sentences
  • failed to cite a source for any of the ideas or facts

Any or all of these factors are considered plagiarism.

NOTE: This example is also problematic because it changes the sense of several sentences (for example, "steam-driven companies" in the second sentence misses the original text's emphasis on factories).

The following paragraph is an acceptable paraphrase of the original text:

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the US, they found work in these new factories. As a result, populations grew, and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams, p.1).

Why is this passage acceptable? It is acceptable because the writer:

  • accurately relays the information in the original uses his/her own words
  • lets the reader know the source of his/her information

The following paragraph is another acceptable paraphrase of the original text:

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. As steam-powered production shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, the demand for workers "transformed farm hands into factory workers," and created jobs for immigrants. In turn, growing populations increased the size of urban areas. Fall River was one of these manufacturing hubs that were also "centers of commerce and trade" (Williams, p. 1)

Why is this passage acceptable? It is acceptable because the writer:

  • records the information in the original passage accurately
  • gives credit for the ideas in this passage
  • indicated which part is taken directly from his/her source by putting the passage in quotation marks and citing the page number

What is and what is not considered common knowledge?

Common knowledge is defined as factual information that is generally known by many people, and that can be found in numerous places. It is not necessary for students to cite common knowledge information.

An example of common knowledge:

Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President of the United States.

This is generally known information. It is not necessary for students to cite an information source for this fact. However, students must document facts that are not generally known, or ideas that interpret facts.

An example of information that is not common knowledge:

According to Bridget Stutchbury, the scientist who wrote the book, Silence of the Songbirds, it is possible that one half of the world's songbird populations have been lost since the 1940s.

The idea that songbird populations have been lost is not a fact but an interpretation based upon the author's observations. Students must provide a proper citation for this kind of information.


What are the penalties for plagiarism?

The University at Buffalo considers plagiarism a form of academic dishonesty and a serious breach of academic integrity. The penalties for plagiarism can be severe, including grade reduction, course failure, student suspension, and even student expulsion. University instructors are continuously developing more sophisticated methods of detecting plagiarism, including the use of detection software programs. Examples of academic dishonesty, departmental procedures for penalizing students, and university policies related to plagiarism are available on the University's Academic Integrity web site.