Plagiarism Guide

Note: Thanks to the Florida State University English Department for inspiration for this assignment.

Let’s Talk About Plagiarism!

Here’s what it says in our course policy guide:

VCU Honor System – Upholding Academic Integrity: The VCU Honor System policy describes the responsibilities of students, faculty and administration in upholding academic integrity, while at the same time respecting the rights of individuals to the due process offered by administrative hearings and appeals. According to this policy, “Members of the academic community are required to conduct themselves in accordance with the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity.” In addition, “All members of the VCU community are presumed to have an understanding of the VCU Honor System and are required to:

  • Agree to be bound by the Honor System policy and its procedures;
  • Report suspicion or knowledge of possible violations of the Honor System;
  • Support an environment that reflects a commitment to academic integrity;
  • Answer truthfully when called upon to do so regarding Honor System cases;
  • Maintain confidentiality regarding specific information in Honor System cases.”

More information can be found at in the VCU policy library.

In this class, because coursework will be at times collaborative, particular issues of integrity arise. You should not copy or print another student’s work without permission. Any material (this includes ideas and language) from another source must be credited, whether that material is quoted directly, summarized, or paraphrased. In other words, you should respect the work of others and in no way present it as your own.

Here’s what the VCU Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity  has to say about student responsibilities in the classroom:

Categories of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to, any deliberate and dishonest act that results, or could result in, a student receiving an unfair advantage in an academic matter:

  • Plagiarism
  • Cheating
  • Lying
  • Stealing Academic Materials
  • Facilitation of academic dishonesty

Here are some unexpected examples of these forms of misconduct:

  • Plagiarism: submitting a paper you wrote for UNIV to your history course (see below re: Recycling)
  • Cheating: Writing your name on a Blue Book before the exam starts (because writing anything in a Blue Book before the exam starts means you aren’t starting with a blank test). Another unexpected example: turning in work digitally using an email address other than your VCU one (because there’s no way to verify it’s you rather than someone else).
  • Lying: Telling me that you couldn’t write your blog post on time because there was a storm, but actually, you were playing Call of Duty and forgot about the time (because you just lied about work to get a better grade).
  • Stealing Academic Materials: Keeping a library book past the due date (this is why there are late fees–to help you avoid theft; the idea is that if you have it, someone else who needs it can’t use it and thus you are impinging on their education)
  • Facilitation of Academic Dishonesty: You saw someone else looking at their cell phone during an exam, but don’t mention it to anyone (you know someone cheated but did nothing, meaning you just helped them cheat and are thus yourself a cheater)

The VCU HONOR PLEDGE applies to ALL work for credit, unless otherwise stipulated by your professor/instructor:

“On my honor, I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment, and I pledge that I am in compliance with the VCU Honor System.”

So What Is Plagiarism?

In American academic culture in general and VCU in specific, we assume that in each semester, any work you have generated is new work you have done to satisfy the specific requirements of that course.  Unless you tell us otherwise, we will assume that any text or work you give us is something you have made by yourself, without anyone else’s ideas or information.  Plagiarism is therefore any instance in which you present someone else’s work or your own old work as your own.

Category 1: Taking Credit for Someone Else’s Document

One of the commonest and most egregious forms of plagiarism, this happens when you take pre-existing text and turn it in for credit as if you’ve written it.  Examples (all of which I have had turned in for credit to me) include:

  • Copying an online article (Wikipedia is a popular target for this) into a Word document and putting your name at the top.
  • Turning in a pre-written essay from an online college essay site or other database
  • Hiring someone to write your essay for you
  • Someone else volunteering to write your essay for you, such as a parent or sibling
  • Inserting an anecdote from a book you read into a paper that you otherwise wrote while claiming it was your own
  • Writing a “new story” by copying the entire plot from a previous work but changing the name of the main character

These all violate the honors code because you are using someone else’s work without saying that someone else wrote it. Instead, you are claiming that you wrote it, which is not true.

Category 2: Inappropriate Source Use Technique

This category is for plagiarism that uses a citation style and appears to be citing sources, but may be having trouble.  It covers both deliberate attempts to cheat as well as inadvertent errors.  Remember: accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism!  The Harvard Guide to Using Sources states that:

“If you copy language word for word from another source and use that language in your paper, you are plagiarizing verbatim. Even if you write down your own ideas in your own words and place them around text that you’ve drawn directly from a source, you must give credit to the author of the source material, either by placing the source material in quotation marks and providing a clear citation, or by paraphrasing the source material and providing a clear citation” (“What Constitutes Plagiarism?”).

It is a good idea to carefully review the more detailed discussion of plagiarism on the Harvard Guide to Using Sources website. The site provides helpful information on certain writing practices that seem harmless or that you may overlook but are still considered forms of plagiarism.  Examples include:

  • Copying and pasting a sentence from a source into your own paper without doing anything else. This is a problem because, by not doing anything that would tell me it came from someone else, you’re claiming that you said it.
  • Making up a quotation or paraphrase that doesn’t really exist in the original material, or putting quotation marks/an in-text citation around language you actually wrote in order to pretend the source said it.  This is a problem because you’re claiming someone said something they didn’t, which is a lie.
  • Putting quotation marks around a sentence or introducing a paraphrase but forgetting an in-text citation.  This is a problem because you let me know it came from somewhere, but have given me no way of finding it!

It is a good idea to carefully review the more detailed discussion of plagiarism on the Harvard College Writing Program website. The site provides helpful information on certain writing practices that seem harmless or that you may overlook but are still considered forms of plagiarism.

For more information on how to correctly signal source use, see the VCU Writes! website.

A quick note on mistakes: UNIV 111 is a class to learn about these kinds of problems.  If I can see that you are trying your best, but have just forgotten a quotation mark here or a signal phrase there, I don’t think of that as plagiarism, but as an honest mistake.  However, if I can’t see any attempts to show me that content comes from other places, I’ll understand that you are trying to cheat.  If you have any questions about this, or are worried you are making some kind of grave mistake, please contact me or your UTA and show us what you’re worried about immediately!

Category 3: Lying About a Source and its Content

This category of plagiarism happens when students lie about the content of a source or its existence.  This type of plagiarism means that you will be doing appropriate source use technique–except you are choosing to lie about the content or existence of those sources!  This type of plagiarism is almost never due to a mistake.  Examples include:

  • “Inventing” a source, or claiming a source exists that doesn’t.
  • Lying about the content of the source: claiming it says something it doesn’t, or that it doesn’t say something it does
  • Citing a novel when what you’ve actually seen and are talking about is the movie
  • Citing an article when what you’ve really read and are talking about is the Wikipedia page about that researcher
  • Claiming you did a survey or other research when you didn’t
  • Claiming your field research backed up your hypothesis when it didn’t

All these lies are problems because in every case, you’re telling me something that isn’t true about a source.

Category 4: Recycling

This is usually a surprise category to students: you cannot use your own original work from one class in a second class, even though you wrote it!  Here’s why.  Because we assume that any work you generate for a class is original work, “recycling” your own work without express permission is a violation of academic honesty.  Examples:

  • Submitting a paper you wrote in high school as a final paper for a college class
  • Submitting a paper you wrote in high school as a first draft for an FI assignment
  • Writing and submitting one new paper as the final for both FI and your history class

In all these cases, you would be getting a new grade for already-graded work.  This is a problem because it violates our expectation that you will do new work in every class.  It also generally prevents you from advancing your skills and knowledge, since you aren’t doing any new work, so you aren’t doing any new learning.

However, many teachers are happy to help you continue to do new work in a class that builds on your previous examples.  If you want to use old work as the foundation for new work, ask your teacher! S/he may well be happy to help you find a way to keep thinking about things within the assignment parameters and scope of the new class.

Self-Referral: the One-Time Leniency Clause

VCU Honors Policy allows you one opportunity to make a self-referral to the Honors Council.  Let’s say you had a last-minute paper deadline that you couldn’t meet, you panicked, and you committed one of the forms of plagiarism above.  Or imagine you took an exam thinking it was open-notes, and then you realize it wasn’t–so technically you cheated.  You should always contact your professor about this immediately.  But you should also know that you have the self-referral option: instead of worrying in silence and waiting for your teacher to refer you to the Honors Council, you can refer yourself: turn yourself in.  Why would you do that?  Here’s the relevant section from the policy:

“A self-referral is valid if an Administrator determines that a suspicion of academic misconduct had not been brought to the attention of either the self-referring student or the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity at the time that the student selfreferred. A self-referring student found responsible for a violation may be placed on Honor Probation and receive a grade of “0” for the relevant assignment, quiz, or exam in the place of a sanction that would otherwise be appropriate for the violation found. A student may not avoid standard sanction through self-referral more than once or while on Honor Probation.”

The key part of that is that, because you chose to own up to your mistake, your penalties are lessened. You’ll still get Honors Probation and a zero on whatever the assignment was.  But it is worthwhile to note that the first penalty for being found guilty of plagiarism is often failing the course, and for subsequent violations, a 3-semester suspension.  As a result, self-referral allows you to take a much smaller penalty.  You can only do this once, but it’s a good way to correct a mistake due to panic, confusion, etc.  Note that you have to refer yourself before your teacher does or it’s not a self-referral, it’s a standard professor referral.


Okay! Now you know more about how plagiarism works.  Time to see if you know how to handle problematic situations!

If you have any questions that you do not understand about anything here or any other aspect of academic integrity, please contact me immediately!  I’ll post relevant questions below: