Understanding plagiarism

The honest creation of new knowledge, discovery of new facts, new ways of looking at the known world and original analysis of old ideas are basic academic values. However, the simple repetition of the words and thoughts of someone else does not lead to the level of understanding an educated person is expected to have (Standler, 2000). Those who accurately acknowledge the work of others earn both the satisfaction of generating new knowledge through honest effort and the respect and esteem of their professors, colleagues and professional peers.

As students and scholars, we are constantly engaging with other people's ideas: we read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class and encounter them on the web. Appropriately, we are influenced by the ideas of others and incorporate them into our own thinking and writing. To facilitate the free exchange of ideas among scholars, we give credit to those from whom we borrow words, images or ideas.

In simplest terms, writers must distinguish their own words from the words of others by placing the words of others within quotation marks, with appropriate citations to the sources of quoted text. Neglecting to do so is plagiarism: stealing the words, images or ideas of others without clearly acknowledging the source of that information.

The prohibition of plagiarism is not unique to educational institutions. If the expression of an idea is recorded in any way or fixed in some medium — such as a piece of writing, drawing, photograph, painting, or web page — it is considered intellectual property and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. To plagiarize is to steal the property of someone else, a blatant infringement of the law (Turnitin Research Resources, 2005).

Plagiarism in any form, however minor, is a violation of the UNL Student Code of Conduct, section 4.2.a.3, which defines plagiarism as: "Presenting the work of another as one's own (i.e., without proper acknowledgment of the source) and submitting examinations, theses, reports, speeches, drawings, laboratory notes or other academic work in whole or in part as one's own when such work has been prepared by another person or copied from another person." Graduate students are held to a "zero tolerance" standard for all aspects of the Student Code of Conduct, including plagiarism. The most common sanction for graduate students who engage in plagiarism is suspension or expulsion.

The following sections explain what plagiarism is and offer strategies to help you give proper credit when you use the words and ideas of others.

If you have questions about the proper way to cite someone else's words or ideas in your own writing, ask your instructor or contact an adviser in the Writing Assistance Center, 115 Andrews Hall, 402-472-8803.