note: information on this page has been taken from The Little, Brown Handbook (Pearson 2007)

The knowledge building that is the focus of academic writing rests on participants' integrity in using sources. This standard of integrity derives from the idea that the work of an author is his or her intellectual property: if you use that work, you must acknowledge the author's ownership. At the same time, source acknowledgements tell readers what your own writing is based on, creating the trust that knowledge building requires. Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else's ideas or words as your own. Whether deliberate (e.g. copying & pasting text) or accidental (e.g. carelessly omitting citations), plagiarism is a serious offence.

The Internet has made it easier to plagiarize than ever before, but it has also made plagiarism easier to catch. Teachers can use search engines to find specific phrases or sentences anywhere on the Web, including among scholarly publications, all kinds of websites, and paper collections. They can do so as easily as students. Because Ghent University takes plagiarism quite seriously, special "anti-plagiarism" software (Ephorus) has been implemented in all Minerva courses.

Knowing what you need not acknowledge

Two kinds of information do not have to be acknowledged in source citations: your own independent material and common knowledge

  • Independent material Your own independent material includes your thoughts, observations from experience, compilations of facts, or experimental results, expressed in your words or format. For example, you might offer interpretations on a poem based on your own close reading of the poem, or you may create schemes and diagrams from information you gathered yourself. Note that someone else's ideas and facts are not yours, even when you express them entirely in your own words and sentence structures. The ideas and facts require acknowledgement.
  • Common knowledge Common knowledge consists of the standard information of a field of study as well as folk literature and commmonsense observations. Standard information includes the major facts of history, such as the dates during which Charlemagne ruled as emperor of Rome (800-14). It does not include interpretations of facts, such as a historian's opinion that Charlemagne was sometimes needlessly cruel in extending his power. Folk literature, including legends and many fairy tales, are popularly known and need not or cannot be traced to a particular writer. Literature traceable to a writer is not folk literature, even if it is very familiar. Commonsense observations are things most people know, such as that inflation is most troublesome for people with low and fixed incomes. A particular economist's idea about the effects of inflation on Chinese immigrants is not a commonsense observation.

Knowing what you must acknowledge

You must always acknowledge other people's independent material -that is, any facts or ideas that are not common knowledge or your own. The source may be anything, including a book, an article, a movie, an interview, a microfilmed document, a Web page, a newsgroup posting, or even an opinion expressed on the radio. You must acknowledge summaries or paraphrases of ideas or facts as well as quotations of the language and format in which ideas or facts appear: wording, sentence structures, arrangement, and special graphics (such as a diagram). You need to acknowledge another's material no matter how you use it, how much of it you use, or how often you use it. Whether you are quoting a simple important word, paraphrasing a single sentence or summarizing three paragraphs, and whether you are using the source only once or a dozen times, you must acknowledge the original author every timie.

Using copied language: quotation marks + source citation

Consider this example:

Original (by Jessica Mitford, Kind and Usual Punishment, 1974, p 9)
The character and mentality of the keepers may be of more importance in understanding prisons than the character and mentality of the kept.

*But the character of prison officials (the keepers) is more important in understanding prisons than the character of the prisoners (kept).

Without quotation marks or a source citation, the "paraphrase" matches the original's wording and closely parallels the sentence structure.

According to one critic of the penal system, "the character and mentality of the keepers may be of more importance in understanding prisons than the character and mentality of the kept." (Mitford 1974: 9)

Using a paraphrase or summary: your own words + quotation marks + citation

This example changes the sentence structure of the original Mitford quotation above, but it still uses Mitford's words without quotation marks and without a source citation.

*In understanding prisons, we might focus less on the character of the kept than on those of the keepers.

Revision 1
Mitfords holds that we may not be able to learn less about prisons from the psychology of prisoners than from the psychology of prison officials (1974: 9).

Revision 2
We may understand prisons better if we focus on the personalities and attitudes of the prison workers rather than those of the inmates (Mitford 1974: 9).