The topic of plagiarism has been taken up by mainstream media this morning, and some of the sources I’ve been reading seem confused by the concept. Such confusion is not an option for my students, so I write to clarify matters.
First, it’s not a valid defense to state that only a small percentage of a paper or presentation were plagiarized. Claiming that 93% of a paper consisted of original ideas would be similar to telling a judge that you only assaulted 7% of the people you encountered on a given day. Just as those 7% of your acquaintances would still be considered to have been assaulted, the 7% of someone else’s thought you used without citation is still considered plagiarism. I once failed a student who “only” copied a single paragraph from Wikipedia in a ten-page paper. Please note that, in accordance with the Academic Integrity section of my syllabus, this not only resulted in a failing grade for that particular paper, but for the entire course.
Second, it’s not a valid defense to blame the plagiarism on someone who assisted you writing a paper or speech. When you put your name on an intellectual work, you are responsible for its content. This is why purchasing papers or paying someone else to compose a paper or speech for you is such a bad idea. If the original author plagiarized, and then you put your name on the paper, you too have plagiarized.
Finally, it’s okay to reference someone else’s intellectual work in your own work, providing you cite that work properly. This can be done quite simply, as in the following example: “As Michelle Obama said in her 2008 convention address, ‘your word is your bond’.”
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature