Plagiarism Policies & Guidelines @ WWU: Understanding & Avoiding Plagiarism

Resources for students and faculty

Understanding Why Plagiarism Matters

Plagiarism is “like lip-synching to someone else's voice and accepting the applause and rewards for yourself.” 1

Researchers in universities- -students and teachers, especially- -can only do their work in the atmosphere in which ideas are freely exchanged and the evaluation of intellectual effort is not clouded by suspicions about where it came from. Just as students have some claim to the right to be told the truth in the classroom by teachers who know what they are talking about, teachers have a right to assume that work submitted under a student's name is indeed the product of the student's honest effort.

All original insight in a scholarly community occurs in the context of the creative work of other people. As Sir Isaac Newton observed when he wrote to Robert Hooke, “If I have seen further [sic]... it is standing on the shoulders of Giants.” 2

A paper with a comprehensive bibliography shows that the writer is conversant with the intellectual context in which he or she is operating.


1 Purdue University 1995-2000. OWL: Online Writing Available [Online]: [1 March 2001]

2 Newton, Sir Isaac. “Letter to Robert Hooke, 5 February 1675/76.”  In Familiar Quotations, 16th ed.  Ed.  John Bartlett. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992, 281.

Plagiarism Definition

Plagiarism is presenting as one's own in whole or in part the argument, language, creations, conclusions, or scientific data of another without explicit acknowledgement.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Using another person's written or spoken words without complete and proper citation.
  • Using information from a Website, CD-ROM or other electronic sources without complete and proper citation.
  • Using statistics, graphs, charts and facts without acknowledging their source.
  • Submitting a paper purchased from a term-paper service.
  • Paraphrasing, which is imitating someone else's argument using other words without acknowledging the source.
  • Claiming credit for someone else’s artistic work, such as a drawing, script, musical composition or arrangement.
  • Using someone else’s lab report as a source of data or results.
  • Using one’s own or substantially similar work, produced in connection with one course, to fulfill a requirement in another course without prior permission. A student may use the same or substantially the same work for assignments in two or more courses only with written permission from the instructors of all the classes involved.
  • Submitting the results of a machine translation program as one’s own work.

[from the WWU Academic Honesty Policy and Procedure]

How Can You Avoid Plagiarism?


Plagiarism is using others' ideas and words without clearly and properly acknowledging the source.

When you work on a research paper you will probably find supporting material for your paper from works by others. When you quote people -- or even when you paraphrase or summarize information found in books, articles, or Web pages -- you must acknowledge the original author. It's okay to use the ideas of other people, but you do need to correctly credit them.

If you don't credit the author, you are committing a type of theft called plagiarism.

It is considered plagiarism when you

    • Use the words or ideas of others without citing them.
    • Paraphrase others' words or ideas without citing them.
    • Summarize others' words or ideas without citing them.
    • Copy and paste passages from the Web, a book, or an article and insert them into your paper without citing the author.
    • Use or buy a term paper written by someone else.

Keep in mind that it is now easy to search and find passages that have been copied from the Web, and professors use plagiarism software to check your sources.


You are more likely to risk plagiarizing when you

    • Do not understand the material well enough to be able to use it.
    • Rely too heavily on the ideas of others or presume their ideas are preferable to your own.
    • Do not know the correct methods of citation and attribution.

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use

    • another person’s idea, opinion, or theory;
    • quotations of another person’s actual spoken or written words;
    • paraphrase of another person’s spoken or written words;
    • summary of another person's words or concepts; or
    • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings—any pieces of information—that are not common knowledge.

When taking notes, include complete citation information for each item you use.

Use quotation marks when directly stating another person's words.

FOR MORE HELP, try the WWU Writing Center website or contact them by email at


Plagiarism is a Serious Offense!

Penalties range from loss of time by having to redo an assignment to failing a course.


Using & Citing Sources

Building on the knowledge and ideas of others is an important aspect of academic research.


When you research a topic you may find information from articles, books, or the Web to support (or disprove) your ideas. When you write a research paper, you gather facts, data, words and ideas from other sources, including experts and scholars.You may want to quote a specific sentence from an article you read or you might want to summarize or paraphrase an idea or concept that you found in a book.

All of these practices are perfectly acceptable, as long as you credit, or cite, your source.

To cite means that you state where you found the information so that others can find the exact item again. In this way we build upon the ideas and knowledge of other people.

Here are examples of three ways to use source material:

Quotation: Colors play an important role in our impressions. As Colson Whitehead observes, “Aspirants to luxury often opt for red and gold hues long soaked into their mentalities as the spectra of royalty” (1999, 145). *

Paraphrase: Colors play an important role in our impressions. For example, Colson Whitehead points out that red and gold are associated with royalty and luxury. *

Reference: Many writers, including Colson Whitehead, have noted that colors play an important role in our impressions. *

Be sure to use the appropriate citation to acknowledge the source, as in this example:

* Whitehead, Colson. The Institutionalist. New York: Anchor Books, 1999.


Proper citation of quotations, paraphrasing and references is an acknowledgement that a student has learned from others. This is an important aspect of academic and scholarly research.

Specific conventions for citing and documenting sources vary among the academic disciplines (APA, MLA, CBE, Chicago, etc.). If your instructor has not specified what style of documentation to use, it is your responsibility to find out.

Because no one can remember all the specific rules of citation, it is a good idea to purchase one of the many handbooks or style manuals available. Check with your instructor or the Writing Center for suggestions. Western Libraries also provides copies to borrow.

Here is a link to a library guide with Quick Guides to the most commonly used citation styles. Included are links to examples of subject specific styles:

Tips for Using Quotations

A quotation is a group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker.

Here are some tips for using quoations in your writing:

  • Use direct quotation when the original version makes the point more clearly, succinctly, or aesthetically than you could.
  • Whenever possible, integrate or splice relevant quotations into your own sentences by
    • using a phrase such as “according to Brad Jones”, or “as Garcia observes” to introduce the quote;
    • attaching the quoted material to some of your own language.
  • When you incorporate quotations into your own sentences, be sure the quotation uses the grammar of the original sentence.
  • If you use ellipsis points (...) to omit words or shorten quotations, make sure you do not distort the intention or meaning of the original.

When you quote another's words, you must always acknowledge, or cite, your sources.

What is Paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing is a close restatement of another person's argument using your own sentences.

One way to paraphrase is to write your text without looking at the original, and then compare the two. Note that a paraphrase differs from a summary in that it could actually be longer than the original.

When you paraphrase, you must still acknowledge your sources.

Common Knowledge

Most fields are grounded in a body of common knowledge shared by scholars in the field. Examples are historical dates and established scientific principles.

You do not need to cite facts or ideas that are common knowledge in the field you are studying, as long as you express them in your own sentences.

When you can not be sure what is common knowledge and what is not, play it safe and cite your sources.

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