Academics at university can be complex. Correctly citing the ideas and words of others, ensuring that group work is undertaken responsibly and that the division of labour and degree of collaboration is within the boundaries prescribed by the instructor, will certainly require more attention and care than what you are accustomed to in high school.

In courses requiring essay assignments or written reports, be sure that you understand what plagiarism is (see below) and how to avoid it (ask your instructor for guidance). In courses requiring statistical assignments or similar exercises, be sure that you fully understand the instructor’s expectations regarding appropriate assignment preparation; again, ask if you have any questions or if anything is unclear. Be aware that different courses and different instructors may have different expectations about the level of collaboration (teamwork) that may be acceptable. Unless you are told otherwise by the instructor, you should assume that you are supposed to produce your work independently.

Definition of plagiarism:

According to the University's Policy 71 (Student Discipline), plagiarism is defined as "...the act of presenting the ideas, words, or other intellectual property of another as one's own. The use of other people's work must be properly acknowledged and referenced in all written material....Use of [source material] without complete and unambiguous an offence under this policy."

It is vital for students to understand that plagiarism can occur inadvertently, but that it still constitutes an academic offence, whether intentional or not. It is therefore extremely important for students to understand how to carry out research and provide citations in an appropriate manner.

It is also very important to understand that plagiarism is not an offence limited to the world of academia. Theft of intellectual property and violation of copyright are offences in the "real world" too, offences that can and do result in lawsuits.

Types and varieties of plagiarism include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following:

  • Word-for-word use of part or all of any written work (print or electronic) without quotation marks and/or without citation of the source (footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetic citations) and/or without a complete bibliography.
  • Word-for-word use of text spans (phrases, sentences, paragraphs, longer segments) patched together from two or more sources without quotation marks and/or without citation of the source and/or without a complete bibliography.
  • Word-for-word use of primary source materials without quotation marks and/or without citation of the source and/or without a complete bibliography.
  • Word-for-word use of source materials with some text enclosed by quotation marks and provided with citations, but with other text not identified as quoted, and/or not cited, and/or without a complete bibliography.
  • Combination of word-for-word use of sources with close paraphrases of source texts, with accurate use of quotation marks and citations (note or parenthetic) to identify word-for-word use, but without citations to identify paraphrases and summaries, and/or without a complete bibliography.
  • Completely paraphrased material without complete citations and/or without a complete bibliography.
  • Giving a citation for only the first or last sentence in a paragraph, even though the rest of the paragraph also contains material in need of direct attribution.

In general: A complete and accurate bibliography constitutes only one part of the fulfillment of the requirement for complete and unambiguous acknowledgement of sources. A very large proportion of plagiarized papers do have perfectly or nearly adequate bibliographies. If the paper's reader has to go to (or hunt for), and has to look directly at, the text of the source in order to identify where the student's own thoughts and words end and the source's thoughts and words begin, then the paper is plagiarized.

If the writer of the paper does not include utterly explicit, direct, and complete indications of where the writer ends and the source begins through accurate citations in notes or parentheses and through quotation marks (wherever called for), then the paper is plagiarized. If the footnotes/endnotes/parenthetic citations do not fully clarify the nature and the extent of the use of the source material, then the paper is plagiarized.

Avoidance of plagiarism in other types of assignments

The offence of plagiarism - the theft of intellectual property - is not restricted to traditional written assignments such as essays. It can occur in other kinds of academic assignments as well: oral, musical, and artistic. The same rules hold: use of the intellectual property of another requires appropriate citation. Following are a few very broad guidelines for avoidance of plagiarism in presentations that are not restricted to the written word. It is extremely important for students to note that they should consult with their course instructor in disciplines that require assignments such as these; specific rules may obtain that are not referenced here.

Oral presentation (e.g., speeches):
Acknowledge your source verbally. It is not possible to give full academic citations in an oral presentation without interrupting the flow; citations should therefore be worked gracefully into the speech (e.g., "As William Blake wrote in Songs of Experience, 'Love seeketh only self to please.'"). As with written works, the fact that a source is on the Web does not mean that it doesn't need to be cited.

If you are required to produce a written outline to accompany your speech, ensure that you give full written academic citations here for the abbreviated citations employed in the oral part of the assignment.

Use of musical sources (recordings, scores, etc.):
Musical creations require citation just as much as the written word. If you incorporate a musical score into a written assignment, or use a piece of music for a live or multimedia presentation, you must provide an appropriate citation. This holds true no matter where you obtained the score or recording (i.e., if it was downloaded from the Web, it still needs to be cited properly).

Creative work (e.g., musical compositions, artistic presentations):
It is not uncommon for artists and musicians to echo or "quote" the work of other artists in their own creations. Students engaged in producing assignments that involve creativity should be aware of the guidelines and standards of their own discipline regarding the appropriate use of earlier works, and what sort of acknowledgement may be considered necessary.

Commonly heard but unacceptable defenses of plagiarism

As an undergraduate student, I am just starting to learn about a particular subject. I wouldn't necessarily know enough about it to come up with original ideas, so I copied everything from books and web sites. How is that plagiarism?

Plagiarism doesn't depend on the use of other people's words and ideas per se; it depends on not acknowledging your use of them appropriately.

If I'm working with source material which was specified and required by the assignment, or was written by the course professor, I don't have to give citations/use quotation marks. The professor already knows what the source material is.

No. The professor's knowledge in no way eliminates the student's responsibilities towards the source material.

I took this material from the course text - it doesn't need to be cited the way you have to cite other sources.

No. All works must be appropriately acknowledged, no matter where they come from.

I've included a bibliography. That covers me, and I haven't committed plagiarism. I'm not required to do anything more than that. If for some reason the professor really wants to know how I used my sources, then s/he can use my bibliography entries to check things out.

No. The student's responsibilities toward the source material have not been fulfilled unless, in addition to the List of Works Cited (bibliography), s/he has also provided entirely complete attributions (citations and, where needed, quotation marks) of each and every quotation, paraphrase, summary, and allusion to words, ideas, thoughts, and other intellectual property of all sources.

The paper I presented was just a preliminary draft, so it didn't need to include any source information or footnotes. That's not necessary until the final draft.

Incorrect. No matter what the stage of preparation, the work which you submit or present must provide a faithful record of all source usage.

The assignment asked for an entertaining presentation. If it's supposed to be entertaining, then it's not serious, and if it's not serious, it doesn't need to have source information included.

Wrong. Comedy constitutes intellectual property too. All ideas, thoughts, and intellectual properties of other people are equally covered by the requirements of responsible source usage. If you find a joke website and use its material in your course assignment, you must give adequate citation to the website.

The charts/statistics/images I put in my paper aren't covered by rules of copyright - the only stuff I need to give citations for is written material.

Wrong. Whatever the type of research material you use in an assignment, you are responsible for its appropriate citation.

I don't have to give citations if I'm using entirely my own words to summarize or to paraphrase points made by the source.

Incorrect. It is not merely the specific words of the source which demand responsible citation. The ideas and thoughts - the intellectual property in general - of the source also, and equally, demand responsible citation.

I gave every citation that was called for - my paper is full of footnotes. I don't need quotation marks."

Wrong. Whenever you use the direct words and phrases employed by the source author, you have to give recognition to this with quotation marks. Otherwise, you may not be committing theft of ideas, but you are committing theft of expression.

My friend who typed/did the inputting of the paper for me forgot to include the quotation marks and/or footnotes. This isn't plagiarism because I'm not responsible for my friend's errors.

Sorry. The person who submits the work bears direct responsibility for it in all of its aspects.

When I write my papers, I put in all the source materials first, and then I go back over the paper and add the citations and put in the quotation marks and/or put the passages into my own words. I just forgot to do that this time/I just missed a few passages/I accidentally submitted a preliminary draft that I hadn't added the citations to - I shouldn't be blamed for that.

Wrong. Not only do you bear the responsibility for whatever you submit - in whatever stage of preparation - you are also using a very dangerous methodology, since you always run the risk of missing one or more passages that should have citations. Always enter the citation/quotation marks as soon as you enter the passage in your paper.

I found one of the sources I used on a website. There was no author listed, so I don't need to give a citation; and anyway, I don't know how to cite web material.

Wrong. No matter what kind of source you use, where it comes from, or whatever difficulty you may encounter in finding full information about it, you must give appropriate recognition to it. There are style guides available to give you guidance in citing web material.

I've lost some/all of my research notes for the paper, so I can't say where everything comes from; but I haven't committed plagiarism because all the stuff was there in my research notes.

Sorry. The source information must be in the paper and must be submitted with the paper.

I copied some material from a source into the page margins of the course textbook. Then I forgot that it came from a source. After that I put it into something I submitted for the course. I didn't really mean to be misleading.

Sorry. Careless study habits and practices can get you into trouble. You do bear responsibility for what you write and what you submit.

I can't be guilty of plagiarism, because this is the way I've always written my papers, in high school and/or in my other university courses, and no one ever told me there was anything wrong with it.

Sorry. The fact that earlier instructors failed to detect or correct what you were doing doesn't mean that it wasn't/isn't plagiarism.

This can't be counted as plagiarism because I didn't have an intention to be dishonest/because I didn't know it was plagiarism.

Sorry. The mistake is there, whether or not there was an actual intention to deceive. When relevant, however, the issue of levels of intent may be taken into account in the rendering of a disciplinary decision.

This can't be plagiarism because I know I'm not the type to do that/I didn't pay any attention to what the instructor or course outline said about plagiarism because I didn't need to since I knew that it didn't apply to me/you can't penalize me for plagiarism because I'm just not that type of person.

Sorry. Everyone is capable of making mistakes. No one is immune. Very good people do make mistakes. Most students who commit a first offence never commit another one. You learn from the mistake, and then you go on. A very large proportion of undergraduate students who have had disciplinary judgments do later attain honourable graduation from Waterloo.

Categories of written offences other than plagiarism

Submission of work not written and prepared by you, including (but not limited to):

  • Copying or stealing the work of another student
  • Paying for the creation of work by a commercial service or by an acquaintance to be submitted by you
  • Acceptance of such service for free
  • Purchasing already existing written work
  • Using an essay for submission by you which was found on one of the free Internet essay sites
  • Writing a paper for course submission by another student
  • Excessive unauthorized collaboration with another student(s)
  • Submitting the same paper to more than one course without the permission of all instructors

Office of the Associate Dean of Arts, Undergraduate Studies
University of Waterloo