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Defining and Preventing Plagiarism

Defining and Preventing Plagiarism

The UVa-Wise Honor Pledge reads,

“I pledge on my honor as a student of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise that I will uphold and respect the integrity and principles of the Honor System. As a student, I understand it is my responsibility to act honorably in all phases of academic life in order to ensure a position of trust among faculty, staff, the community at large, and my fellow students.” (Convocation 2017 Pamphlet).

See Full Honor Code Here.

What is Plagiarism?

Instructors looking to create a course policy on plagiarism should consult the WPA Statement of Best Practices on Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism.

In western culture, we believe ideas can be owned  and expect writers to acknowledge the unique contributions of others.

Any information other than common knowledge, information so well-known as to be understood by the audience for which you are writing, must be identified as coming from another person or source.

Plagiarism includes presenting ideas, organization, language, visual aids, sounds, images or anything else from another source without acknowledging it as derived from another source. Plagiarism includes a variety of ways in which students claim someone else’s work, whether it be a published article, chart, a paper from a friend or some web site, is your own.

It is also plagiarism if you allow someone else including a teacher, writing center or other tutor, parent or friend to write, significantly reword, or co-author work you claim to be your own.

In STEM, all quantitative information including charts, graphs, illustrations and data that is not common knowledge must be cited.

In foreign language courses, the use of a translator on certain assignments is also a form of plagiarism.

When creating oral or digital projects, students should discuss with their Professors attribution and academic fair use policies concerning the use of copyrighted images, animation, music, sounds, narration, and video.

How do I avoid plagiarism?

As you study, be sure to quote exact exact language and identifying sources and paraphrase carefully as you take notes.  For the most part, the words, ideas and structure must come from you alone.

When you use outside sources of information, carefully acknowledge it using the format of the suggested style guide for that assignment. Many disciplines have a preferred style guide that will show you how to correctly identify outside sources.  Your syllabus or Professor can tell you what style guide or format is preferred in each course. The Purdue Universty OWL is an invaluable resource for writers using APA and MLA format.


Any information you derive from another person or source must be identified.  An ethical quote identifies exact language with quotation marks around the found materials and identifies the source.

APA and MLA also encourage the use of an attributive tag to identify the author and establish their credibility.

Example: As Feminist theorist Susan Bordo argues, …


The best paraphrase changes not only the wording, but also the structure or organizational pattern of the original source and identifies the source. Paraphrases are needed not only when using individual sentences from other authors, but also when discussing any concepts or data which are not common knowledge.  Switching out words for synonymns is NOT enough to make a sentence original and all exact language taken from an original must be identified as a quote.

Avoiding Plagiarism:  You MUST quote and cite all original language- including a single distinctive word- and paraphrase and cite any facts, stats, or basic info that is NOT common knowledge.


  1. Plagiarized Stats: Just within the commonwealth of Virginia, there were a recorded 51% of individuals who were classified as food insecure

Did you know this exact number? If not then you must cite it!

NOT Plagiarized Stat:  Just within the commonwealth of Virginia, there were a recorded 51% of individuals who were classified as food insecure in 2015 (

Don’t make up facts.

Document all medical and technical facts with a cite.

2) Plagiarized Language: It is clear, we have become corporate eaters.

This is too close to Wendell Berry’s ideas and exact language when he says, “We have become industrial eaters” on page 1 in The Pleasures of Eating

Even one DISTINCTIVE WORD (“eaters”) must be either quoted AND cited

OR completely changed in language AND cited in your paraphrase

because the idea is from Berry not you.

OPTION 1 NOT Plagiarized: It is clear, we have become corporate “eaters” ( Berry 1).

OPTION 2 NOT Plagiarized: It is clear, we are digesting food like corporations (Berry 1).

OPTION 3 NOT Plagiarized: As Wendell Berry has long warned, our eating habits are becoming mechanized (Berry 1).

Why is Plagiarism a Problem?

Not understanding plagiarism is not a defense against the charge of plagiarism. College students are expected to know what plagiarism is and to cite any and all original ideas, structure, and language you use for another source in written, digital and oral presentations.  Your work is expected the be the product of your own thought, organization, and writing so submitting work without acknowledging original sources is unethical intellectual theft.

If you are concerned or have questions please seek assistance in the Writing Center or with your Professor before submitting the project for a grade. Avoiding plagiarism is a critical skill that you must master  in every discipline. Failure to master the ethical use of sources is grounds to require you- for your own good- to repeat a course so you can succeed later.