It can be hard to understand what plagiarism is and why it’s wrong when the assignment requires you to use information from other sources. Plagiarism is wrong, and can take many forms:

  1. Copying a completed paper from an Internet source, whether or not you have to pay for it.

  2. Copying a completed paper from any printed source, such as a book or a magazine article.

  3. Copying a completed paper from another person. This includes another person in your class or in this school, another person in another school, another person who doesn’t go to school, a relative, a friend, or any other human being who offers to do your research paper for you.

  4. Copying an article from any source, electronic or otherwise, and submitting it as your paper.

  5. Cutting and pasting from several sources to create your paper, even if you provide citations for the parts you copied.

  6. Quoting whole sections of the material in your paper, even if you provide citations for the parts you quoted.

  7. Using the exact words from a source without quoting, even if you provide citations for the parts you used.

  8. Using exact words from a source without providing citations.

  9. Using almost the exact words (that is, you change a few words around but still use basically the original language) from a source, whether or not you provide citations.

  10. Using someone’s ideas or facts, even in your own words, without providing citations to show where it came from.

To avoid plagiarism, you should:

  1. Find the information you need in a variety of sources. Locate the information exactly, and either highlight on a photocopy or printout, or copy it down onto an index card. If you copy the information yourself, make sure you write down everything about the source that you’ll need to write the citation.

  2. Read the information to yourself a few times until you feel that you understand it.

  3. Think of a way that you might explain this information to someone else, and write that down.

  4. Be sure to include a citation in the body of the paper that shows where this information came from. For example (Riley 26), above.

Do I have to have a citation for everything?

You must cite any fact or detail that is not common knowledge. Common knowledge may be defined as “facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people.” (Harris 3) Our definition is:

If you are certain that the average 10-year-old in Fair Lawn knows something, you don’t have to document it.


  • Barack Obama is the president of the United States. (You do not need to document this.)

  • George Washington was the first president of the United States. (You do not need to document this.)

  • George Washington is often remembered for his speech known as “The Farewell to the Troops,” in which he encouraged the United States to avoid entanglements with foreign governments in the future. (Yes. You need to document this.)

Plagiarism is relatively easy for your teachers to detect, because

  1. Your teacher is familiar with the way you write and will notice immediately if you hand in something that was not written by you.

  2. Virtually anyone can tell the difference between the writing style of a high school freshman and the writing style of the college professor who wrote the article or book you’re plagiarizing.

  3. If you can find a source on the Internet and copy it, your teacher or the librarian can find it, too.

  4. It’s unlikely that you can find exactly what you need for your assignment on the Internet or in a book, and so plagiarized research papers tend to be off-topic, and they stand out.

  5. Teachers know specifically where to look to track down suspected plagiarism.

You will be penalized for plagiarism according to the Fair Lawn High School Agenda and Student Handbook:

  • 1st offense: A zero for the assignment and parents will be notified.

  • 2nd offense: Above, plus a conference with the student, parent, guidance counselor and administrator. The student will receive a failing grade for the marking period. You should be aware that plagiarism often produces a strong reaction in teachers and administrators.

  • 3rd offense: May result in failure in that course for the school year.

Because it is usually so easy to prove, a student often has very little to say in a plagiarism hearing that can be considered defense. Typical excuses include:

“But I didn’t have time to do the research.”

“I only copied a little bit.”

“But what you wanted was the information. That’s what I gave you.”

“My brother only helped me with it.” or “I just looked at [someone else’s] paper to get ideas, but then his words were stuck in my head so that’s the way I wrote it.”

“The author said it so well, I couldn’t think of another [or a better] way.”

These are all different ways to say “You’re right. I didn’t do it the way I was supposed to.” None of these are excuses that make plagiarism okay. That excuse doesn’t exist.

If you are ever found to have plagiarized work, on a research paper or on any other assignment, be prepared for the consequences. They will not be pleasant.

Each student is asked to sign the "I Know About Plagiarism" sheet, which will be kept on file.If you don't understand it, ask questions before you sign it.