How to use this site

This site provides resources and information to help students understand what plagiarism is, why it matters in academic work, and how they can avoid plagiarism in their writing. This site does NOT outline Carleton’s policies regarding plagiarism as an academic integrity violation, the process by which faculty report suspected plagiarism cases to the Academic Standing Committee (ASC), or the process the ASC uses to investigate those cases. For information on those topics, students and faculty should consult the Campus Handbook. The content here focuses primarily on the definitions and practices that define plagiarism in scholarly writing, such as the work Carleton students complete in their classes and senior comprehensive projects. However, the major ideas described here apply equally well to extra-curricular and professional writing. 

Furthermore, while this site places the primary responsibility for avoiding plagiarism squarely on the writer, it’s important to understand that, as a student writer, you don’t have to figure out everything on your own. At Carleton, students have many resources to help them develop their writing skills, including their understanding of how to use sources effectively and avoid plagiarism. Most notably, you can visit the Writing Center for feedback on your use of sources, or any other aspect of your writing. You can also make an appointment with one of Carleton’s research librarians, who can help you find outside sources and help you use them responsibly.

What is Plagiarism?

Simply put, plagiarism occurs when an author uses the results of another person’s creative or intellectual labor in a way that makes those results appear to be the author’s work. Plagiarism has many forms, which makes it difficult to define in broad terms. As a general rule, though, plagiarism occurs when an author does one or more of the following:

  • Submits an entire text, written by another author, as their own work. This includes copying a print or web publication, downloading a “sample essay” from a commercial website, paying another person to write an essay for you, or using an essay previously written and submitted by another student. It can even include “self-plagiarism”–submitting an essay in one class that you originally wrote and submitted in a different class.
  • Uses another author’s exact words, without indicating their source. This obviously includes cutting and pasting entire paragraphs from another text into your own, but it also includes situations where an author weaves sentences or phrases from other works into their own, without clearly documenting which words are theirs and which words came from outside sources. [(For more information on what we mean by documenting sources, look here.)]
  • Presents another author’s data or conclusions as their own. If an author presents conclusions, interpretations, arguments, or data that resulted from another author’s intellectual work, but does not acknowledge this original source, it still counts as plagiarism, even if the plagiarizing work doesn’t repeat any words or phrases from the original text.
  • Uses images, visualizations, or code created by someone else without acknowledging their source. Plagiarism isn’t just about words; technically, any time your work benefits from someone else’s intellectual labor and you don’t recognize that person in your writing, you could be committing plagiarism. This includes copying someone else’s images, graphics, charts, visualizations, photographs, or programming code without acknowledgement.

Your Responsibilities as a Student Writer

However, these broad categories only identify the kinds of actions that could potentially qualify as plagiarism. It is crucial to understand that the exact rules regarding what does and does not constitute plagiarism depend on the situation in which an author is writing. 

Furthermore, it’s equally important to recognize that, regardless of the context, academic integrity is defined by your actions as a writer, not your intentions. When you fail to properly acknowledge the sources that contribute to your writing, you have committed an academic integrity violation, regardless of whether you intended to present someone else’s work as your own or you simply did so by mistake. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all academic integrity violations will be treated with equal severity, but it does mean that even accidental misuse of sources can cause problems for you as a writer, possibly including disciplinary action.

Elsewhere on this site, you can find advice and guidelines for determining what the boundaries are between plagiarism and acceptable practice in any given situation. As a student and a writer, though, it’s ultimately your responsibility to understand how to avoid plagiarism in whatever context you’re writing.