Plagiarism

A Quick Guide

This set of notes pertains primarily to plagiarism policies at UC Irvine, and it is kept as short and clear as possible to function as a quick guide. More in-depth resources on the same subject can be found at the UCI library website; and you should also familiarize yourself with UCI’s formal policy on academic honesty. A very good tutorial developed by Cornell University takes you through a set of actual examples.

Note also that these guidelines pertain mostly to academic and professional writing and may have less bearing on creative works that use appropriation as an aesthetic strategy. For guidelines on appropriation art and fair use, see the appropriation page of this site instead. It is not too much to say that your professional success may depend in part on understanding the nature of plagiarism and appropriation, the ongoing legal and cultural controversies over each, and your own position with respect to both.

Plagiarism, or the act of taking the writing or thoughts of another person and passing them off as one’s own, is quite simply a form of theft. As such, it is taken seriously in this university and can be grounds for expulsion. Even with the best will in the world, it requires care to avoid plagiarism. All writers (essayists especially) depend in part on work done by other thinkers and hence end up using ideas and wordings that are not strictly their own. The best way to maintain your own intellectual honesty is to understand how to credit your sources appropriately in your writing—in other words, how to use a bibliography and either footnotes or end notes effectively. Below are outlined the main situations in which you need to use notes in your writing; if you follow these guidelines closely, you will stay on safe ground.

Do keep in mind that intellectual honesty is not the sole reason for using notes, although it is by far the most important. Using notes is also an act of intellectual generosity. Your notes, combined with your bibliography, can help your readers to pursue their own lines of thought by making it easier for them to identify and locate your sources. By using notes, in other words, you become part of a great and ever-changing community: those who help to expand and circulate knowledge.

There are four main circumstances that call for notes:

1. If you quote directly and exactly from someone else’s work. In this case you must use quotation marks around the quoted material and credit the full source in a note. In this case it is usual for the person’s name to appear in text, in connection with the quotation.

2. If you closely paraphrase someone else’s words. In this case you do not have to use quotation marks, but you must credit the source in a note. In this case it is also usual for the person’s name to appear in text.

3. If what you write depends heavily on someone else’s thought or work, even if you don’t mention them by name or paraphrase particular sentences. These are the most difficult cases to decide; but in general, if you feel indebted to someone’s writing, or if the idea is strikingly unusual and you cannot honestly say you would have thought of it yourself, you should provide a note. Especially in an academic, professional, or research setting, your rule of thumb should be: when in doubt, insert a note. No one has ever gotten into trouble for too many notes—only for too few.

4. If you need to explain something in more detail but don’t want to confuse or interrupt your main flow of thought. For instance, footnotes are a good place to put digressions and definitions or to suggest related lines of inquiry. This is the sole use of notes that is not about crediting sources; instead it is about streamlining and focusing your argument (a kindness both to yourself and to your reader), but without completely excising what you consider pertinent information.

As always: when in doubt, ask. An objective opinion can be invaluable when one’s judgment becomes clouded by that looming deadline.

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