From: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Joseph Gibaldi
and Walter S. Achtert, 3rd edition, New York: The Modern Language Association
of America, 1988, pp. 20-25.
You may have heard the word plagiarism used in relation to lawsuits in the
publishing and recording industries. You may also have had classroom discussions
about academic plagiarism. Plagiarism is the act of using another person's
ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source. The
word comes from the Latin word plagiarius ("kidnapper"), and Alexander
Lindey defines it as "the false assumption of authorship: the wrongful
act of taking the product of another person's mind, and presenting it as
one's own" (Plagiarism and Originality [New York: Harper, 1952] 2).
In short, to plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written
or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from someone else.
Plagiarism in student writing is often unintentional, as when an elementary
school pupil, assigned to do a report on a certain topic, goes home and
copies down, word for word, everything on the subject in an encyclopedia.
Unfortunately, some students continue to use such "research methods"
in high school and even in college without realizing that these practices
constitute plagiarism. You may certainly use other persons' words and thoughts
in your research paper, but you must acknowledge the authors.
Plagiarism often carries severe penalties, ranging from failure in a course
to expulsion from school.
The most blatant form of plagiarism is to repeat at your own someone else's
sentences, more or less verbatim. Suppose, for example, that you want to
use the material in the following passage, which appears on page 906 in
volume 1 of the Literary History of the United States:
The major concerns of Dickinson's poetry early and late, her "flood
subjects," may be defined as the seasons and nature; death and a problematic
afterlife, the kinds and phases of love, and poetry as the divine art.
If you write the following without any documentation, you have committed
The chief subjects of Emily Dickinson's poetry include nature and the
seasons, death and the afterlife, the various types and stages of love,
and poetry itself as a divine art.
But you may present the information if you credit the authors:
Gibson and Williams suggest that the chief subjects of Emily Dickinson's
poetry include nature, death, love, and poetry as a divine art (906).
The sentence and the parenthetical documentation at the end indicate the
source, since the authors' names and the volume and page numbers refer the
reader to the corresponding entry in the bibliography:
Gibson, William M., and Stanley T. Williams. "Experiment in Poetry:
Emily Dickinson and Sidney Lanier." Literary History of the United
States. Ed. Robert E. Spiller et al. 4th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan,
Other forms of plagiarism include repeating someone else's particularly
apt phrase without appropriate acknowledgment, paraphrasing another person's
argument as your own, and presenting anther's line of thinking as though
it were your own. Two more examples follow:
This, of course, raises the central question of this paper. What
should we be doing? Research and training in the whole field of restructuring
the world as an "ecotopia" (eco-, from oikos, household; -topia
from topos, place, with implication of "eutopia"--"good place")
will presumable be the goal. (From E. N. Anderson, Jr., "The Life and
Culture of Ecotopia," Reinventing Anthropology, ed. Dell Hymes
[1969; New York: Vintage-Random, 1974] 275.)
Plagiarized in student writing
Humankind should attempt to create what we might call an "ecotopia."
Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social
upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing
it, we are engaged in building a remarkable civilization from the ground
up. This is the meaning of the Third Wave.
Until now the human race has undergone two great waves of change, each one
largely obliterating earlier cultures or civilizations and replacing them
with ways of life inconceivable to those who came before. The First Wave
of change--the agricultural revolution--took thousands of years to play
itself out. The Second Wave--the rise of industrial civilization--took a
mere hundred years. Today history is even more accelerative, and it is likely
that the Third Wave will sweep across history and complete itself in a few
decades. (From Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave [1980; New York: Bantam,
Plagiarized in student writing
There have been two revolutionary periods of change in history:
the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution. The agricultural
revolution determined the course of history for thousands of years; the
industrial civilization lasted about a century. We are now on the threshold
of a new period of revolutionary change, but this one may last for only
a few decades (10).
In the first example, the writer borrowed a specific term (ecotopia) without
acknowledgment; in the second example, the writer presented another's line
of thinking without giving that person credit. Once again, however, the
students could have avoided the charge of plagiarism by rewording slightly
and inserting appropriate parenthetical documentation.
Humankind should attempt to create what E.N. Anderson, Jr., has called
an "ecotopia" (275).
According the Alvin Toffler, there have been two revolutionary periods of
change in history: the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution.
The agricultural revolution determined the course of history for thousands
of years; the industrial civilization lasted about a century. We are now
on the threshold of a new period of revolutionary change, but this one may
last for only a few decades (10).
As before, the parenthetical documentation in each revision identifies the
source of the borrowed material and refers the reader to the full description
of the work in the bibliography at the end of paper:
Anderson, E.N.., Jr. "The Life and Culture of Ecotopia." Reinventing
Anthropology. Ed. Dell Hymes.1969. New York: Vintage-Random, 1974. 264-81.
Toffler, Alvin. The Thrid Wave. 1980. New York: Bantam, 1981.
If you have any doubt about whether or not you are committing plagiarism,
cite your source or sources.