Saint Mary's Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism means presenting, as one's own, the words, the work, or the opinions of someone else. It is dishonest since the plagiarist offers as her own, for credit, the language, information, or thought for which she deserves no credit.

Plagiarism occurs when one uses the exact language of someone else without putting the quoted material in quotation marks and giving its source. (Exceptions are very well-known quotations, such as from The Bible or Shakespeare, for example.) In formal papers, the source is acknowledged in a footnote; in informal papers, it may be put in parentheses, or made part of the text. This first type of plagiarism, using without acknowledgement the language of someone else, is easy to avoid. When a writer uses the exact words of another writer or speaker, she must put those words in quotation marks and give the source.

A second type of plagiarism is more complex. It occurs when the writer presents as her own, the sequence of ideas, the arrangement of material, or the pattern of thought of someone else, even though she expresses it in her own words. The language may be hers, but she is presenting as hers and taking credit for the work of another. She is, therefore, guilty of plagiarism if she fails to give credit to the original author of the pattern of ideas.

Students writing informal themes, in which they are usually asked to draw on their own experience and information, can guard against plagiarism by a simple test. They should be able to honestly answer "No" to the following questions:

  • Am I deliberately recalling any particular source of information as I write this paper?
  • Am I consulting any source as I write this paper?

If the answer to these questions is "No," the writer need have no fear of using sources dishonestly. The material in mind, which she will transfer to her written pages, is genuinely digested and her own.

The writing of a research paper presents a somewhat different problem, for here the student is expected to gather material from her books and articles read for the purpose of writing the paper. In the carefully written research paper, however, (and this is true of term papers in all college courses), credit is given in footnotes for every idea, conclusion, or piece of information which is not the writer's own; and the writer is careful not to follow closely the wording of the sources she has read. If she wishes to quote, she puts the passage in quotation marks and gives credit to the author in a footnote; but she writes the bulk of the paper in her own words and her own style, using footnotes to acknowldge facts and ideas she has taken from her readings.

*Saint Mary's College, which has edited this material, reprints it with the permission of the publisher from Understanding and Using English, by Newman P. Birk and Genevieve B. Birk (Odyssey Press, 1971).