If you pretend to have done work that you did not do, that is
a type of lying. If you pretend that you wrote something that was written by
someone else, then you have not only lied about what you have done, but you have
also stolen the work from its real author. Using another person's words or
ideas in your written work without acknowledgement is called "plagiarism".
A simple test of whether something is plagiarism is to ask yourself: Would
someone reading this work think that you created something that was
really created by another person? If they would, then this is plagiarism. It
doesn't matter how small it is. If you take a sentence from a book, and include
it in your paper, you must say so, or you may be accused of plagiarism.
Anyone who is caught committing plagiarism - or any other act of academic
dishonesty - may be punished by their instructor or college. This could
mean a failing grade, academic probation, or even expulsion from school.
Keep in mind that any use of any source must be acknowledged
- that is, if you use a source, you must say that you are using it. There
are virtually no exceptions to this rule. For more information about this, you should
take a look at some of the books we have recommended on the Style Manuals Page.
Why do American colleges care so much about plagiarism? One idea that is
very important in American education is that you learn not only facts, but
skills. Skills are learned by using them - by doing your own work. You
don't become a great athelete by having someone else do your running for you!