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Academic Integrity: Plagiarism

The word plagiarism can be a scary one because it is often used in connection with disciplinary action and other academic consequences. It’s important to take a step back and understand the broader definition of the word and how different types—some intentional and some unintentional—will lead to different consequences of varying severity.

Is the concept of plagiarism cultural?

In an academic context, writers use information from various sources to provide evidence that supports their arguments and ideas. In U.S. academic writing, a writer must show the source of this information, using a standard citation style to do so. The method and practices for attributing sources varies from culture to culture. While some academic cultures allow writers to use the words or ideas of others without indicating from where or whom the information was retrieved, this practice is not accepted in the U.S. academic culture.

If you completed some or all of your high school (secondary education) or university education in a non-U.S. setting, know that the practices for citing and attributing information to sources may be different from those to which you are accustomed. For example, inadequate paraphrasing of another person’s ideas tends to be regarded as unintentional plagiarism within the U.S. academic culture, but may simply be classified as poor professional writing skills in another country. Some languages indicate quotations only by context and inference; in U.S. academic writing, quotations must be explicitly marked and acknowledged.

Is there consensus regarding what plagiarism means within the U.S. academic community?

While there may be some minor variability in what can be viewed as common knowledge across academic disciplines, a general consensus of plagiarism within the U.S. academic culture can be drawn from the similar definitions in the major style guides (e.g., APA, The Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, AMA, IEEE) to the ethical and appropriate academic writing they employ.

Most style differences are found in the mechanics of how the citation is formatted and located within the text, but all guides require citing the original author(s) when using the ideas and words of others.

The most current publication manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) serves as the standard style guide for Walden academic writing.

What does plagiarism mean within the Walden academic community?

According to the Walden Student Handbook, “plagiarism is defined as use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source” (Walden University, 2015, Code of Conduct section). You’ll notice that this definition doesn’t mention anything about intent; it includes both willful acts of cheating and accidental incidents of insufficient citation. Both are plagiarism, but they are addressed in different ways.

What does intentional plagiarism look like?

It is difficult, of course, to definitively determine a writer’s intentions; however, most of us would reasonably conclude the intentional action of a writer in more egregious cases where large block of texts are copied verbatim or with thinly veiled editorial changes, such as substituting synonyms for a few words in the passage. A reader may never know whether a writer intended to plagiarize, but there are some clear hallmarks of what we call intentional plagiarism. This is the sort of plagiarism that most people think of when we use the term plagiarism. It occurs when a writer misleads the reader into thinking that material in a paper is the original idea or wording of that writer, when it in fact belongs to another author. Here are some examples of intentional plagiarism:

  • Taking an existing paper, written by another person, and placing one’s own name on it to indicate authorship.
  • Cutting and pasting text directly into one’s own paper without crediting the original source and/or without marking the text as a quotation.
  • Buying or borrowing a paper from another writer or service and claiming it as one’s original work.

In the case of intentional plagiarism within the Walden academic community, the result is typically disciplinary action. Students intentionally misleading readers about authorship of ideas will face the processes and outcomes for Code of Conduct violations outlined in the Walden Student Handbook.

What does unintentional plagiarism look like?

Most instances of plagiarism we see at Walden fall into this second category, unintentional plagiarism. This type of plagiarism is typically the result of carelessness or a lack of solid understanding of proper paraphrasing or APA citation practices. Here are some examples of unintentional plagiarism:

  • Paraphrasing another author’s work insufficiently, leading to a text that is too close to the original but not indicated as such.
  • Quoting another author directly, but citing the material as a paraphrase instead of as a direct quotation.
  • Borrowing multiple ideas from another author but only citing occasionally, such as at the end of a section or paragraph.

In the case of unintentional plagiarism, education is a more effective response and remediation assignments are most commonly applied as sanctions; however, in some cases disciplinary action can result from repeated infractions. For help understanding how to cite, paraphrase, and quote properly, see the tools below:

  1. Self-paced modules on plagiarism available from the Writing Center.
  2. The Writing Center’s materials on citing sources properly.
  3. The Writing Center’s resources on paraphrasing.
  4. The Academic Skills Center’s resources on ensuring academic integrity, including a plagiarism checklist.
  5. Turnitin’s resource on the 10 types of unoriginal work, The Plagiarism Spectrum.