Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Whose Work Is It?

by Dr. Ann Wagner

Long ago when I was in elementary school, I can remember being assigned a one-page paper on an animal. It was a busy weekend with my family, and on Sunday night, I opened an encyclopedia and copied the information on cheetahs until I reached the end of the page. Done! I figured. And I was shocked when I received a poor grade.  That was my first experience with plagiarism.

set of encyclopedias

What is plagiarism?

Simply put, plagiarism is taking someone else’s thoughts, ideas, and work and pass them off as your own. In my case, it was the work of the person who wrote the entry in the encyclopedia; however, it could be an article, a website, a book, a friend’s paper, and even a photograph or piece of art.

Why does it matter?

When you use someone else’s work and don’t give them credit for it, you are essentially stealing it! And that just isn’t the right thing to do.  Plagiarism is considered a major violation of academic integrity and can lead to receiving no credit, disqualification, disciplinary action, and even expulsion in secondary school or at a college or university.  It is a very serious matter.

pages of text

What if I just change the words some?

Again, plagiarism isn’t just someone’s words, it is also someone’s ideas. We’ve probably all had someone else steal our idea from time to time and it doesn’t feel good.  If you are using someone’s exact words, then the proper thing to do is put quotation marks around those words and credit the person who wrote them. If you are using a photograph you found on the web (unless it is from a site that allows you to use them for free and without reference), you need to reference the location you found the photo and its details. Even if you are using someone’s ideas—but not their actual words—you still need to give credit to that person for the idea.  In an academic paper, you will follow the style guide that is used for the class (such as MLA, APA) to credit your sources appropriately.


Wait? That’s a thing?

Yes, it is.  Let’s say you wrote a paper last year about the painter, Picasso, for your art history class and SCORE! you can totally use it again for your biography assignment in English this year. It’s your own words, right?  Yes, but it is not the right thing to do.  Remember: academic integrity.  The intention of the assignment is for you to learn about and write about something new, not to get out of the assignment.
student looking confused