A great resource for teachers is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. If you go on to the MLA (Modern Language Association) website, you can email MLA to request a free copy. Besides all the information about MLA formatting and citations (the standard for all Humanities classes), the handbook provides a concise chapter on plagiarism—a clear definition, types of plagiarism, consequences of plagiarism, and tips on how to avoid plagiarism. I have created of the handbook which you can see at the end of this post.
The MLA Handbook’s section on plagiarism is very student friendly, addressing the student directly. I have culled a few insights from the chapter that I think is most helpful for teaching students about plagiarism:
- Because research has the power to affect opinions and actions, responsible writers compose their work with great care. They specify when they refer to another author’s ideas, facts, and words, whether they want to agree with, object to, or analyze the source. This kind of documentation not only recognizes the work writer do; it also tends to discourage the circulation of error, by inviting readers to determine for themselves whether a reference to another text presents a reasonable account of what that text says. Plagiarists undermine these important public values. (52-53).
- Plagiarists are often seen as incompetent—incapable of developing and expressing their own thoughts—or worse, dishonest, willing to deceive others for personal gain (53).
- Student plagiarism does considerable harm. For one thing, it damages teachers’ relationships with students, turning teachers into detectives instead of mentors and fostering suspicion instead of trust. (53).
- To guard against unintentional plagiarism during research and writing, keep careful notes that always distinguish among three types of material: your ideas, your summaries and paraphrases of others’ ideas and facts, and exact wording you copy from sources. Plagiarism sometimes happens because researchers do not keep precise records of their reading, and by the time thy return to their notes, they have forgotten whether their summaries and paraphrases contain quoted material that is poorly marked or unmarked (55).
- If you realize after handing a paper in that you accidentally plagiarized an author’s work, you should report the problem to your instructor as soon as possible. In this way you eliminate the element of fraud. You may receive a lower grade than you had hoped for, but getting a lower grade is better than failing a course or being expelled (56).
- If you have any doubt about whether or not you are committing plagiarism, cite your source or sources (59).
Besides these insights, the sections on “Forms of Plagiarism” (56-58) and “Summing Up” are also great for students. Check out the PDF file below and consider sharing these two sections with your students.
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. (New York: Modern
Language Association of America, 2009).