Plagiarism is defined as, "the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work" (from Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd. Ed. (1993)). In other words, it's taking the work of someone else and passing it off as your own!
Plagiarism is more than copying work. It can include improperly paraphrasing or using direct quotations, not correctly citing the work of others, or reusing the work done for a class or project in a different one. Plagiarism can occur in a school or university, and also on a job or in professional settings. Outside of school, authors, speakers, entertainers, and other public figures have had their work plagiarized, and these same groups of people have been accused of plagiarism. See this guide for more about plagiarism, why it matters, and what you can do to minimize it.
Image: Webster’s (2005). Plagiarism. In Webster’s II New College Dictionary (3rd Ed.) [Image]. Houghton Mifflin.
Padron, K. (2022). Introduction to plagiarism [YouTube video]. Florida Atlantic University Libraries. https://youtu.be/wZttOsdDEYs
Padron, K. (2023). Plagiarism: What it is and how to minimize it [Slides]. https://libguides.fau.edu/ld.php?content_id=72734435
Your professors are busy with discovering and creating new knowledge in their disciplines. They do this by becoming knowledgeable in their subject, and then either create new work like books, articles, or creative works or undertake focused studies or research. Their results contribute new creations or information for their subject's body of knowledge, and then is shared with the public and others in their profession.
Attribution and Transparency: Cite It!
Your professors are expected to show their sources of information used in their work, and also show how they did it in order for their work to be considered trustworthy. They have to cite their work, known as attribution. Attribution identifies an idea's original source which allows readers to see and read it. This helps with transparency: interested readers can see where your professor got his or her ideas, and also how they did their work. Attribution also gives credit and recognition to the original authors or creators used.
Assignment Requirements and Communication
In college assignments, most professors want you to document your sources of information so you can identify and give credit to the person who had the original idea. It also helps show how you got your ideas and came to your own conclusions. Attribution or showing your work also prepares you to learn the conventions of communicating your ideas and work in academic or other professional settings. Whether you become a journalist, electrical engineer, or English teacher, you will frequently build your ideas on the work of others and write to communicate.
Academic Honesty and Ethical Behavior
The problem with plagiarism is a person does not receive credit or recognition for his or her ideas. Do you want someone to take your work and claim it is theirs? What if you spent hours working on an assignment only for someone to copy it and earn the same grade as you? You were the one who did the hard work, so was that fair? No, it wasn't!
The bigger deal about plagiarism is that it is unethical! Plagiarism is like cheating, or stealing ideas and the work of others. Ethical behavior is a foundation in academic and professional settings, and it is based on norms of mutual trust, personal integrity, honesty, and individual responsibility. Unethical behavior can also be harmful to you and others.
Many people are exploring artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots such as ChatGPT and Bing, and are also using them to create content.
While using AI on its own is not considered to be unethical, the following uses can possibly be considered plagiarism:
Copying and not citing content created from AI may be considered unethical because someone is not putting in the expected effort to learn, earn a grade, or be published. As of Fall 2023, college, universities, and publishers are exploring policies on using AI in assignments.
Certain uses of AI are acceptable when considering the purpose of its use and how it utilizes information created by others:
Exploring AI can be informative or entertaining, but be mindful of its use for your assignments or publications. For information about acceptable and non-acceptable uses of AI in your work, refer to your course syllabus or relevant school/ work policies. Whether you get information from a book, journal article, or computer-generated content, it should be used ethically.
Revisions and expanded content by Kristy Padron, MLIS (2017, 2023)
Original content by Rachael Neu, MLS (2014)