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.
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.
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).
Plagiarism is just one part of a broader category called
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.
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:
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.
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.