"Plagiarism is defined as the act of using the ideas or work of another person...as if they were one's one, without giving proper credit to the source." (Cal Poly Class Schedule, Fall 1999, p. 80) Plagiarism is serious business. University policy stipulates that "the penalty for cheating requires an "F" course grade...".
I find plagiarism roughly once a quarter. If I suspect it, I ask the student to bring me the sources of information that they used. If the student does so and after examining it with me admits that plagiarism occurred, they get an "F" in the class. If the student denies plagiarizing and I find no evidence after looking for it, there is no penalty. If I follow up and find evidence, the case is referred to a University Judicial procedure which can lead to expulsion from school.
Sometimes students claim that plagiarism was unintended. This is not an excuse. Plagiarism can be avoided by properly documenting or giving credit to the source of information you present. In research papers this must be done according to elaborate rules. In informal papers, documentation can be provided by mention of the source in the text, in a parenthetical phrase, or in a footnote.
To document your source, place quotation marks around any words that are quoted--whether they come from a book, magazine, the web or a friend or teacher--and indicate exactly where it can be found and consulted by the reader. Documentation must contain author's full name, title of book or article, date and page number or URL.
If you dont quote but paraphrase or summarize a source, you must document just as precisely. When paraphrasing or summarizing, be sure to use your own words, not a sloppy mix of your words and the source's.
Anything not documented is assumed to be either your original idea or common knowledge. This means it's the writer's obligation to always keep track of their sources of information, even before starting to write. Documenting not only keeps you from plagiarizing, it backs up your claims and allows readers to judge how you arrived at them.
Steven Marx 9/9/99