In an article on The Council of Writing Program Administrators website plagiarism is defined as:
"when a writer deliberately uses someone else's language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source."
The article explains the importance of understanding the differences between different types of plagiarism stating:
“This definition [of plagiarism] applies to texts published in print or on-line, to manuscripts, and to the work of other student writers.
Most current discussions of plagiarism fail to distinguish between:
(1) Submitting someone else’s text as one’s own or attempting to blur the line between one’s own ideas or words and those borrowed from another source, and
(2) Carelessly or inadequately citing ideas and words borrowed from another source.”
Note: Individual institutions and programs have varied definitions of plagiarism – you should take the time to familiarize yourself with your programs specific policies and request clarification of any tenants of that policy you find unclear or confusing.
In short, plagiarism is stealing another person’s intellectual property intentionally or unintentionally. This is a serious offense at any level of education, but it is especially problematic at the graduate level.
Because if you are a graduate student, you are engaged not only in learning about what others have done but also in making your own original discoveries. As such, you need to be clear which ideas are yours and which come from other people – whether they are your peers, your professors, or others working in your field.
The best way to do protect yourself from inadvertent plagiarism is to ensure you cite everything properly. This is true when you write and when you give a formal presentation. Your coursework will likely introduce you to the specific style(s) and methodologies used in your discipline (ex. APA, MLA, Chicago Style), but don’t be afraid to ask for extra help from your professors or writing centers if you need it.
It is also important to keep yourself up-to-date on new findings in your field. For one thing, you need to be sure that you are not simultaneously making the same discovery as someone else. It does not happen often, but it does happen. More generally, you need to be aware of recent publications that you should be citing in your own work.
Making a good faith effort to avoid plagiarism and discussing any research related questions with your professors, peers, and other institutional resources might help you avoid plagiarizing. In addition, working to develop your ability to appropriately cite research may help you create and publish valid and respected research.
If you choose to willfully plagiarize any of your work you may be risking your graduate education. If you plagiarize in a thesis or dissertation, the professors reading it will find it. They know what you are doing and what others have done; that’s why they are experts in the field supervising your work.
If you choose to willfully plagiarize a shorter paper, even on a topic outside the specialization of the person reading it, you are still putting yourself at high risk. The professor is still likely to sense that something is amiss and look into it – whether that means some additional reading or running your work through plagiarism detection software.
Needless to say, the consequences for plagiarism are severe – as well they should be. Being found guilty of plagiarizing may prevent you from being able to complete your degree. And, even if you have an undergraduate degree that allows you to still pursue a job search in your chosen field, you may struggle to represent yourself positively to prospective employers. There are few things as detrimental to a successful job search as something in your past demonstrating a lack of integrity. A record of plagiarism may do just that.
There is no justification for plagiarism. It is one of your responsibilities as a graduate student to be informed about how to cite your sources, do it, and then revel in the joy of adding your own thoughts, ideas, and discoveries to those of others.
Ann van der Merwe is a singer and music historian based in southwest Ohio. She holds a B.M. in music performance and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in music history.