A: Identifying Plagiarism

Briefly explain your choice as to whether the scenario presented is plagiarism or not. You may type your answers directly on this sheet or in a Word document. If you choose to use a Word document, make sure you assign the question as presented and your answer underneath. No PDF formats will be accepted!

1.      A student uses an internet article in researching her paper. She finds several of the ideas in the article useful and develops them in her own paper. Since she does not quote from the text, she does not cite it in her paper, but she does put the reference in the bibliography.


2.    In researching a paper on Mary Kingsley, a student discovers that Kingsley was born in Islington in 1862. She didn’t know this fact previously. However, every article she reads on Kingsley

reports the same fact. She does not acknowledge the source of this information with a citation.


3.     You are taking a class that a friend has already taken. She lets you read her paper in order to get some ideas, and tells you to use any parts of the paper you find useful. You incorporate some of her paragraphs into your paper without citation.


4.    A friend offers to let you read his paper in order to get some ideas, and tells you to use any parts of the paper you find useful. You incorporate one of his paragraphs into your paper, and you are careful to include all of the citations from his paper in your footnote so that the reader will be able to find the original source of the information.


5.     A student finds a picture on the web that perfectly illustrates a point she wants to make in her paper. She downloads the picture, but does not use the website’s analysis; in addition, she writes her own caption for the picture. Since the analysis and caption are her own, she does not include a citation for the picture.


6.     A student uses a data set collected by his professor in his analysis of economic trends. Since he develops his own analysis, and since his professor has not published the data, he does not include a citation for the data set.


7.     You find an interesting analysis of Kant’s categorical imperative in a book on 18th- century philosophers. You do not quote directly from the text, but you mention the author of the book as the source for this idea and include a citation at the end of the paragraph.


8.      A student finds some interesting information on a website that is not under copyright. She downloads several paragraphs and incorporates them into her paper, but doesn’t cite them, because they are in the public domain.


9.     You are discussing your term paper with your professor. She gives you an interesting idea about how you might interpret some of the material you have been studying. Since the discussion was informal and does not pertain to an area in which your professor intends you publish, you incorporate her suggestions without attribution.


10.     You find a very interesting quote from Gregor Mendel’s “Experimentation in Plant Hybridization” in a book about Mendel’s life. In your paper, you include the quote and cite Mendel’s paper as the source. 



B: Common Knowledge


If you found some of the questions in the previous exercise confusing, you are not alone. Many people who are sure they know what plagiarism is are less confident when faced with specific examples that seem to fall into gray areas. One of the most confusing issues for many students is the question of what constitutes “common knowledge.”


Everyone knows that you do not need to provide a citation for “common knowledge.” But what is common knowledge? As example #2 in the previous exercise illustrates, a fact that may be commonly known by researchers in the field may be new to you. Conversely, after researching a paper for several weeks, you may know some things very well that would not be recognized as common knowledge. So, how do you know when to include a citation?


The Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab suggests three criteria for identifying something as common knowledge:


“Material is probably common knowledge if . . .

·       You find the same information undocumented in at least five other sources

·       You think it is information that your readers will already know

·       You think a person could easily find the information with general reference sources”

Using these definitions, consider the following scenarios, and decide whether or not you need to include a citation. Briefly explain your answer.


1.      In your paper for your genetics class, you note that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. You didn’t know this before you took the course, but decided not to provide a citation for this information since all biology textbooks contain this information.


2.    You find a really good journal article about the psychology of adolescent girls with eating disorders. You use some of the ideas, but don’t quote directly. Since nearly every book and article you looked at referred to this article, you don’t cite it, because it is common knowledge.


3.     You decide to introduce your paper on Jane Austen with a quote from Northanger Abbey. Since your professor will know where the quote came from, you don’t include a citation.


4.     You find some interesting information on fractals on the web. You don’t cite it, because the material on the web is considered common knowledge.


5.     The proverb “The early bird catches the worm” seems particularly apropos to the subject of your paper, so you decide to quote it. You go to the library and find a book of proverbs so that you can provide a citation.


C.  Paraphrasing

The following are quotes from sources and excerpts from student papers that somehow employ the source quote. In each case, ask yourself “Is this plagiarism”? Explain your answer briefly.

1.   This quote comes from page 305 of the following:

Sweet, J.H. (2009). Mistaken identities? Olaudah Equiano, Domnigos Alvares, and the methodological challenges of studying the African diaspora. American Historical Review, 114 (2), 279-306.

 “To be sure, Atlantic Africans made important contributions in forgoing the interconnected, mutually influencing entanglements of the Atlantic world, yet they were also ensnared by them–through slavery, through racism, through colonial subjectivity”:

Student’s paraphrase:

As one historian has written, people from Africa played an important role in creating the interconnectedness of the early modern Atlantic world even though they were often victims of slavery and racism.

2.   Quote comes from page 292 of the following:

                                                                                          Donald, D.H. (1995). Lincoln. New Yori: Simon & Schuster.

 “On April 12, while the Union fleet lay helpless offshore, the Confederates began bombarding Fort Sumter, and after thirty-four hours Anderson and his garrison were forced to surrender.”

Student’s paraphrase:

The Confederates started the American Civil War in April 1861 when they bombarded Fort Sumter.

3. Quote came from pages 97-98 of the following:

                                                                 Sullivan, R. (2004) Rats: observations on the history and habitat of the city’s most unwanted inhabitants. New York: Bloomsbury.

“In 1893, the city’s star rat catcher was Frederick Wegner, who arrived from Bavaria and made his name, first by ridding Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and then Greenwood Cemetary of rats. When there was a rat infestation in the Central Park Zoo — the rumor was that the elephants had been attacked by rats –he was immediately called in and caught 475 rats in his first week; he used traps because the zookeeper was worried about poison around elephants.”

Student’s paraphrase:

The journalist Robert Sullivan (2004) has noted that New York City’s most successful rat catcher of the 1890s was a Bavarian immigrant named Frederick Wegner, who rid the Central Park Zoo of a major infestation without the use of poison (p.97-8)

  4. This quote comes from page 342 of the following:

                                                                 Rosenzweig, R & Blackmar, E. (1982). The park and the people: a history of Central Park, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

“Just as some advocates viewed Central Park as the future rendezvous of the polite world, so some enthusiasts imagined a zoological garden as a place for their socializing…The private society’s projected zoo would be open to the public but closed to the general public on Sundays. (London’s Zoological Garden admitted only subscribers on Sundays, “the fashionable day” to visit). The Herald warned that “such class regulations” ‘in favor of the weekly few’ would not be tolerated in republican America.”

Student’s paraphrase:

When Central Park was founded some advocates viewed the park as the futur rendezvous of the polite world, and they wanted to restrict admission to the zoological garden to subscribers on Sundays (Google Books, 2009).

5. This quote comes from page xiv of the following:

                                                                     Burrows, E.G. & Wallace, M. (1999). Gotham: a history of New York City in 1898. New York> Oxford University Press

“Though no deed of sale exists, the event is generally accepted as having taken place. In a 1626 letter, a Dutch merchant reported he has just heard, from ship passengers newly disembarked from New Netherland, that representatives of the West India Company had ”purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.’ In 1846, using then current exchange rates, a New York historian converted this figure into twenty-four U.S. dollars.”

Student’s paraphrase:

The legend that Manhattan was purchased for twenty-four dollars does appear to have some historical evidence to support it. According to a Dutch merchant, the West India Company gave sixty guilders for the island.