In the summer of 2004, Keith Cook, Chairman of the Orange County, NC school board, was caught in a scandal and forced to step down. A commencement speech he delivered at a local high school sounded familiar to a newspaper reporter attending the ceremony. When the reporter investigated, he discovered that the speech was identical to one written by Donna Shalala, former U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services. When challenged with his misdeed, Cook admitted to using a speech that he found by searching the Internet for "commencement speeches." He failed to see what he had done wrong, however, implying that the speech's availability on the Web made it fair game for copying. He believed attribution was unnecessary.
Chances are that you understand the difference between creating incomplete citations and passing off someone else's work as your own. Still, you, like Keith Cook, may occasionally find yourself in confusing situations. Do Internet sources need to be cited the same way as books? How do you cite something from the Web if there's no indication who wrote it? What if you rewrite someone else's ideas, putting them all into your own words -- do you still need to cite? If you are in doubt, you run the risk of unintentionally plagiarizing.
Plagiarize by failing to attribute borrowed material.
You risk: Suspension or expulsion, a failing grade for the assignment or course, and a notation on your record. Disciplinary action is part of your disciplinary record for four years after you graduate (or eight years from your date of matriculation), and, if you are suspended or expelled, the suspension or expulsion is permanently noted on your transcript. If it's a first and minor offense, your professor may choose to resolve the matter with you outside of the judicial process.
There are also important personal risks in such decisions: your self-regard begins to erode. You not only compromise the quality of the work you submit in a particular assignment, but over time you also compromise your values. Are your decisions -- even "small" ones, like copying someone else's words -- consistent with the kind of person you want to be?
Find out how to document sources correctly.
You risk: Having to spend a little extra time learning to do it right.
To choose this option:
See the Thompson Writing Program page Working with Sources.
Make an appointment with the Writing Studio. Tutors can help you determine when to quote and when to paraphrase, and how to do both well. They can also help you with citation styles.
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