At NYU, you are expected to write in conversation with other thinkers, honoring their words and ideas just as professional scholars do. In our class, you will learn strategies for representing, analyzing and citing the work of others. But ultimately, you are responsible for your academic integrity and for avoiding plagiarism. According to the College of Arts and Science Honor Code, plagiarism consists of “represent[ing] the words, works, or ideas of others as your own.” Plagiarism can include using:
a phrase, sentence, or passage copied or paraphrased from another writer's work without quotation marks and citation;
facts, ideas, or written text gathered or downloaded from the Internet without attribution;
a purchased paper or "research" from a peer, company or online service;
Your own writing recycled from a current or previous course;
Writing that is ghost-written by someone else, like a family member or tutor.
Plagiarism is a serious academic offense. Final drafts with instances of plagiarism will be downgraded or marked with an F and may result in failure of the course. Further, all cases of plagiarism in EWP courses must be reported to the Director of the Expository Writing Program and the Dean of your college. Disciplinary consequences will range from a warning, to suspension, to expulsion from the university.
What is Academic Integrity? (and other FAQs)
What is Academic Integrity?
Academic integrity, at its most basic level, is being honest, responsible, and clear about where a source’s idea begins and ends, and what your unique response to that idea is. Whether deliberate or accidental, if you are not honest or clear in this manner, you have committed plagiarism, and your doing so may result in your essay being penalized or even your failure of the course.
See here for more on CAS’s and NYU’s policy on Academic Integrity.
Why this emphasis on who owns ideas? The University can be understood as a vast set of conversations on a wide range of subjects. This conversation cannot advance if you simply repeat someone else’s idea as if it were your own. If everyone did this we would get nowhere. The basic move in academic discourse is learning to distinguish your thinking from that of others. (There’s even a book whose title sums up the whole game we are playing: They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.)
I’ve never written a college paper before, and I’m worried I’ll do it wrong and/or say something stupid. Is it okay if I get help from my parent/sibling/smart friend to help me craft my paper?
When we’re new to something, it’s natural to seek out tutors to guide us. The Writing Center (https://cas.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/cas/ewp/writing-center.html) can help you train in three key skills:
Active reading. This is the ability to isolate intriguing quotes and ideas in a source and make connections to other sources and ideas.
How to foster your own curiosity of those quotes and ideas. This means generating questions you are genuinely invested in (What does this quote really mean? Can I explain this complex concept back to myself and others? What happens if I place Idea X against or in conversation with Idea Y?)
How to craft thoughtful, coherent arguments that answer those questions in ways that only you could produce.
If you recruit a friend or family member to help you with such work, there is a danger that they will unintentionally do too much of the active reading/questioning/responding work that is for you. There is a fine line between helpful collaboration and excessive help, and consultants in the Writing Center will know how to assist you without crossing that line.
I wrote something I’m proud of in another class/back in high school. Can I re-use it?
We write to forge new insights for ourselves and our audiences, and so recycling previously-written essays (in their entirety or large sections from them) undermines the purpose of writing in a new situation. It’s normal to revisit work you felt was exploring fertile territory, but discuss with your professor (or a Writing Center consultant) how to develop new ideas from your old writing.
I don’t want to plagiarize, but I’m embarrassed that I still don’t fully understand what it means to represent and cite sources ethically, honestly, and responsibly.
Many students (and even expert, professional writers!) are unclear about what constitutes plagiarism; intellectual property is not an easy issue to grasp. If in doubt, simply ask your professor. Additionally, Writing Center consultants can clarify the difference between plagiarizing another writer’s idea and borrowing a cited idea in order to respond to it and develop your own line of thought.
Is it plagiarism if I change the words/phrasing from a source?
If the core idea came from a source other than you, no amount of re-phrasing the language of that idea makes it yours, so you must cite where you got the idea. If you don’t, this is “patchwriting”--a common form of plagiarism.
See here for more on “patchwriting”: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/words-were-watching-patchwriting
Is it plagiarism to put an uncited idea in my own writing if I think that idea is common knowledge?
This is tricky. As a newcomer to the university, don’t assume you know what is or isn’t “common knowledge” in the same way that an expert in the field might. Remember that you are writing for a community of diverse readers, and their frames of reference could be very different from yours. Even if you think it is obvious you are alluding to a lyric from a famous pop song, anticipate your reader may not know it, and note the source. When in doubt, cite it.
See here for more on “common knowledge”: https://integrity.mit.edu/handbook/citing-your-sources/what-common-knowledge
I put the author’s words in quotes, so I’m done, right?
Not quite. Citation is about more than acknowledging that an idea isn’t yours. It also helps your fellow scholars track down the sources that you found helpful. If all you do is put quotes around borrowed words, how could your reader ever find out more about your source if they get curious about it? When looking over your work, ask yourself the following: (1) Will your reader be able to identify where each quote comes from--what writer or source? (2) Does each quoted source have a full companion entry in the Works Cited List? (3) Could your reader track down the exact source using the Works Cited list as their guide?
I found a great idea/quote in my notes, but I didn’t keep track of the source. Can I still use it?
As many new scholars learn the hard way, the answer is no. Develop a habit of recording quotes with their author/title. Maybe snap a photo of the book cover/article link/etc., along with the quote. Whenever you use a sourceless idea or quote in your writing, that’s plagiarism.
There are so many different citation styles (APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.) Can I use whichever I want?
Each subject will have specific requirements. Ask your professor, but all EWP courses require MLA.
What happens if I plagiarize?
Your professor will meet with you to discuss the language in question. If the plagiarism is extensive you may fail the course; if it’s less extensive you may be asked to re-write the paper and be marked down. All instances of plagiarism must be reported to the Director of the Expository Writing Program and to the Dean of your college.
As long as smart ideas get on the page, why does it matter whether or not they are mine?
This question cuts to the core of why we have a university in the first place: to develop more thoughtful, rigorous, creative minds and more accountable individuals who will help us to solve problems in our world. There will always be pressure on us to cut corners or to be dishonest for short term gains. But the truth is that every time we pretend to understand something we don’t, or impersonate a wiser voice, or steal a unique viewpoint, we weaken ourselves. Every act of plagiarism (this includes using paper mills or hiring a ghost-writer) confirms to you that you cannot succeed on your own. Plagiarism corrodes your sense of personal power and ability.
Conversely, following scholarly protocol (such as clearly representing your sources) encourages you to develop your own ideas, find your own intellectual voice, and actively join the conversation. Our community gains when that happens because we need your fresh ideas for the future and not just the old ideas we already have.