Plagiarism is using someone else's work without giving credit. "Work" includes text, ideas, images, videos, and audio. In the academic world, you must follow these rules:
Plagiarism is a serious academic offense. Penalties can range from failing the assignment to being expelled from the University. See the Lehigh University Code of Conduct site (Article III) for information on the University Student Conduct system and the expectations of Academic Integrity.
When asked why they should cite your sources, many students reply, "So you don't get accused of plagiarizing." This is a good reply, but there are other good reasons as well:
Common knowledge is information that is accepted and known so widely you do not need to cite it:
· Common sayings or cliches. Examples: Curiosity killed the cat. Ignorance is bliss.
· Facts that can be easily verified. As you are conducting your research on a topic, you will see the same facts repeated over and over. Example: You are writing a paper on presidential elections, and you want to mention that Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Although you might not have known this fact before your research, you have seen it multiple times and a citation is never included.
· Facts that you can safely assume your readers know. Examples: Richmond is the capital of Virginia. The North won the U.S. Civil War. Fish breathe using gills.
Not all facts are common knowledge. Please see below for some exceptions, where facts need a citation.
· Facts that surprise you or your reader. Example: Michelangelo was shorter than average (1).
· Facts that include statistics or other numbers. Example: As of June 2009, 42 states had laws that explicitly ban gay marriage, and 6 states have legalized it (2).
· If you have reason to use the exact words of another writer, even if the content is common knowledge. Example: "Lincoln’s political career began in 1832, when he ran as a Whig for the Illinois state legislature from the town of New Salem and lost" (3).
Common knowledge can be course-specific and audience dependent. For example, the number of bones in the leg could be considered common knowledge in an athletic training course. But if you are using that fact in an English paper, you cannot assume your professor has that knowledge, and you would need to cite it.
If you have any questions about whether something is common knowledge, ask your professor for advice.
1. Hughes, Anthony and Caroline Elam. "Michelangelo." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 15 Jun. 2009<http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T057716pg4>.
2. "States Debate Marriage Rights (Research Feature)." World News Digest. June 2009. Facts On File News Services. 15 June 2009
3. "Lincoln, Abraham." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William A. Darity, Jr.. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 450-452. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. RADFORD UNIV. 15 June 2009 , p. 451.
Regardless what profession you go into, these "real world" cases of plagiarism and research misconduct underscore how important it is to cite your sources and what can happen if you don't: