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Getting Started with Research

Your guide to Research, Plagiarism, Copyright, Citation, Style Guides, and Writing Guides

Introduction to Plagiarism

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

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About Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

What is Plagiarism?

Augsburg University's Academic Honesty Policy gives this definition of Plagiarism, taken from the Student's Book of College English by Squire and Chetwood (Encino, California: Glencoe Publishing Co., 1975):

"Plagiarism is the use of facts, opinions, and language taken from another writer without acknowledgement."

Take a good look at this sentence, because the rest of this guide is simply an attempt to explain what it means and provide some context and examples to help you understand it.

There are four key things to note in this definition of plagiarism:


If someone has done research of some kind of report on lab results, the data produced by a psychology experiment, or an essay delving into new interpretations of a historical period or famous book ― you can't simply copy it and pretend it is your own original material.


This prohibition applies to an author's thoughts as well as hard facts.  Just as you cannot copy someone's experiment data, you can't copy their theories, conclusions, arguments, or creative ideas.  Even J.K. Rowling faced plagiarism charges over her Harry Potter series, not for copying books wholesale but for allegedly borrowing concepts to help create her world.


Language matters.  Not just individual words, but sentence structure, metaphors, and style as well.  You can quote the original language directly, or put it completely into your own words, but you cannot just copy it.

"Without Acknowledgement"

Now, this doesn't mean you can't use someone else's facts, opinions, and language in your own work.  You can.  You just have to acknowledge it properly.  This involves telling the reader what your source is using conventional citation formatting, as well as indicating words that are not your own through quotation marks.  (This is where the historian Stephen Ambrose claims he messed up).

About Academic Dishonesty

What is Academic Dishonesty?

Plagiarism is just one part of a broader category called Academic Dishonesty, which covers all forms of lying and cheating that can take place in academia.

In addition to using someone else's work without acknowledgment, you also have to watch out for fabricating facts and data (otherwise known as making things up), getting unauthorized help, reusing your own work, and helping someone else plagiarize or cheat.

It's all in Augsburg's Academic Honesty Policy.

Why This is Important

Why should I care?

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty are taken very seriously throughout academia, including here at Augsburg University.  According to the Academic Honesty Policy, penalties for them can include, depending on the circumstances:

Plagiarism is just as serious in the working world.

Jobs have been lost, careers have been ruined, degrees and awards revoked.

If you're caught plagiarizing, it can have drastic consequences in your current position and future prospects.

  • Failing the assignment
  • Failing the course
  • Even dismissal from the University

Check the policy for the complete list.  Needless to say, the penalties are serious.

Of course, it only matters if you're caught, right?  Unfortunately,

It's not as easy to get away with as you might think.  Is it worth the risk?

Professors have a lot of experience catching cheaters.  They know how students of various levels write, and they can tell the difference between a sophomore's term paper and a journal article.  They also know their field and have already read the sources that you'd be tempted to copy from.  And while you may have Google and Wikipedia to help you, so do they ― it's getting easier and easier to look up suspicious-looking phrases to see where they come from.

Examples of Plagiarism

You're Plagiarizing If...

Not sure if you're plagiarizing or not? Here are some things to avoid.

... you buy a paper off the Internet.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, but turning in a paper that you did not write yourself is academic dishonesty.  This includes papers found or bought online, papers someone else (a friend, a spouse, your pet) wrote for you, or a section of a book or article that you copied wholesale and passed off as your own.

You are expected to do your own work.

Plain and simple.  Don't cheat.

... you lift a paragraph or a sentence or two.

Let's say you find a really good article online and copy a paragraph or two (or five), figuring no one will notice or care.  Unfortunately, someone does care ― your professor, employer, etc.

Copying small amounts is no different than copying the whole thing.

Keep in mind that this is easy to do unintentionally: as you're pulling together material for your essay, it's easy to just copy and paste a few good sentences here and there without thinking about it.  But even accidental plagiarism is cheating.  Every word that you write in your paper is expected to be your own.  If it's not, it should be enclosed in quotation marks (" "), with a reference indicating your source.

Click here to learn more about Direct Quotation.


... you lift a sentence or two and make some minor changes to them

Okay, so this is a little better than the previous example ― at least you've made some attempts to put the material into your own words, also known as paraphrasing.  But, if you haven't paraphrased correctly, and if you haven't given a reference to your source, you could still be in danger.

It can still count as plagiarism, even if you change some of the words.
Click here to learn what paraphrasing is all about.

... you use an argument or idea without mentioning the author.

Say you find a really good article that makes an excellent point about your topic.  You write a section of your paper (or just a sentence, or the whole thing) based on that article's argument, making sure that you put everything in your own words and don't use the exact wording of the original author.  Is that okay?  It's all your own work, so no need to mention that author in your paper, right?

Alas, no.

Copying someone's idea is just as bad as copying their words.

You see, the author of that article went to a lot of trouble to come up with those brilliant ideas.  You can't just pass them off as your own.

Now, if that article's argument is only used in a sentence or paragraph of your paper ― a support for your own original argument, nothing more ― then you're in good shape.  You've already done the work of paraphrasing, now just cite the author to let the reader know where those ideas came from and you're all set.

Click here to learn how to cite properly.


However, if your whole paper is based completely off someone else's idea, if you're just restating an argument already made elsewhere... then you're plagiarizing big time.

... you get some unauthorized help.

By now you know that copying someone else's paper is wrong, but what if you have a little help writing your own?  You wrote the paper, but then your friend helped you revise it, correcting some of the bad grammar and touching up the concluding argument.

When the help changes from reading over a paper to actually helping you write it, it's academic dishonesty.  The Academic Honesty Policy is pretty clear about this:

It is, for example, acceptable for a reader to suggest that a paragraph is unclear or needs more detail; it is unacceptable to offer specific rewording or details for inclusion. It is unacceptable to permit a typist or secretary to make changes or corrections in written material as part of the process of typing.

Of course, as the policy points out there are a few exceptions to this rule.

Your professor, the Writing Lab, and the Librarians here at Augsburg are good places to go to for help.

The key is understanding the difference between having your friend rewrite your paper for you and getting assistance from University staff who are here to help you and know when and where to stop. 

Check with your professor to make sure what help is allowed.

... you "recycle" an old paper.

Sure, "Green" is in these days, but Reduce/Re-Use/Recycle isn't the best mantra for your term paper.  Let's say you wrote a paper for another course last semester that would be a perfect fit for your next assignment.  Can you reuse it?  The answer is maybe... but probably not.

Yes, you're not even allowed to copy your own work.

Professors expect your work to be fresh.  Reusing the paper would be like passing off a used car as brand new.  You may not mind a used car, but you wouldn't like it if you bought that car thinking that it had never been driven.  A few professors may be okay with a repurposed paper, but most won't.

Check with your professor ahead of time.

Otherwise, it's academic dishonesty, and last year's "A" paper could now get you an "F".

Keep in mind that this applies to portions of papers as well.  Copying a paragraph or two and pasting them into your report is not allowed.  Even if the papers are about similar topics, treat this as a good opportunity to rewrite and improve your ideas rather than simply repeat them.

... you just plain make stuff up.

The paper's due in the morning and you haven't done your research.  No harm in making a few fake citations to pad your sources, or creating a few numbers that seem to back up your claim, right?  Wrong.

Fabricating sources or evidence is academic dishonesty.

Your professor will probably know the truth instantly, and it's really easy to check to see if a source is valid or not.

It all comes back to the "Do your own work" concept, except here the key emphasis is on the "Do work" part.

Plagiarism and Multimedia

Keep all of these rules in mind when you're creating:

  • Web Pages
  • PowerPoint Slides
  • Music and Audio Files
  • Videos
  • Posters
  • Presentations
  • Handouts
  • Programming Code
  • etc.

Does this only apply to research papers and essays?


Plagiarism can apply to anything in any form that you produce for classes, or even outside of Augsburg.

All of these rules apply to multimedia as well.

Other Resources

Other places you can go for more information

Plagiarism and Academic Honesty are not just an Augsburg University thing.  They are a big deal everywhere.

You'll find a lot of other resources to help you understand what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and how to cite properly using the various style guides.

Online Resources

  • Reference Databases   |  Reference books with online versions   |  Websites selected by librarians

Print Sources

  • Reference books and other books held at the library.

You'll find all of these books down in the Reference section on the first level.  Just ask for them at the Research Desk!