Academic Integrity & Plagiarism
As an academic department we have several goals for our students but one of the most important is to teach students to develop their own ideas and express them in their own voice. History is a unique discipline that requires thought as to what happened, why it happen, and what does it mean. As students, professors do not want simply a repetition of what has been read or told but rather thought into the issue at hand and an expression of original ideas in a coherent form based upon information from other sources. When put into a written work, citation of sources allows the reader to separate what others have said from what you know and think. Citations also demonstrate from where information was obtained. This allows the reader to trust what the author is writing. All scholarship, even at the undergraduate level, requires trust that the author is reliable. However, for citations to be effective, they must be used properly and judiciously. Citations are not necessary for widely know facts such as “The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.” They are used when lesser known information is utilized in a research paper or if someone else’s words, ideas, or analysis are presented. The citation marks where other’s thoughts and interpretation end and the author’s begin. It further verifies claims and demonstrates the degree of research. The author’s voice is established. Thus, a citation is not used only for direct quotes.
Plagiarism occurs when someone else’s words, ideas, or analysis is passed off as the author’s own. This is academically dishonest, whether done intentionally or not. At its basics, it is intellectual theft and ethically unacceptable at any level. It has no place in a college education and certainly does not fit the teaching of St. Francis. Flagrant examples of plagiarism include: copying, purchasing, or borrowing someone else’s paper and turning it in as your own; copying whole sections from a published source (books, articles, and the Web) while not indicating from where it came; and including facts or data without citing its source. While some plagiarize knowing full well what they are doing, often plagiarism is unintentional. This is usually in the form of paraphrasing or summarizing an author’s ideas. The problem is that without a citation, the reader assumes that the other person’s ideas are your own, that it is your voice speaking. The words may be yours but the idea is someone else’s.
Students should always keep in mind that history is a cumulative process that builds upon the scholarship of past historians to provide a point of departure for future historians to explore and analyze. It is therefore important to acknowledge debt to previous scholars in formulating and building your own ideas. It is unnecessary to agree with the conclusions of previous scholars but of absolute importance to acknowledge the genius of their thoughts and analysis. When a history student writes a paper, they have become a part of the cumulative history process. As neophyte students in history, you are in a fortunate position of being able to draw upon the works of men and women who have spent much of their lives exploring their particular field of interest. As you research and write, your voice is adding to the common stock of knowledge. Make sure that your reader is able to distinguish your contribution from those of others.
One of the most important keys in avoiding plagiarism is identifying the genius of your ideas. As you are absorbing information for your research project establish a method for separating the other’s ideas from those of your own by organizing separate files or sheets of paper. Another key is to be very skeptical of sites on the Internet. Not only are they notorious for inaccurate or incomplete information, they are often plagued with plagiarism. Sites that are more trustworthy are those with “.edu or .gov” suffixes. Information gained from these need to be properly cited.
Ignorance regarding plagiarism is never an acceptable excuse. Professors as well as the college usually have heavy penalties if a student is caught plagiarizing. These include failing the course or academic sanctions. The college catalog on page 13 discusses Academic Integrity and penalties for its abuse. When there is doubt talk to your professor, a librarian, or consult a book such as Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History (New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2007). Finally, a good rule of thumb is “When in doubt, provide a citation.”
If you wish to learn more about plagiarism or take a test on plagiarism, go to a site from the University of Southern Mississippi, www.lib.usm.edu/legacy/plag/plagiarismtutorial.php