Plagiarism is defined by the College Catalog as the appropriation of any other person’s work and the unacknowledged incorporation of that work into one’s own work (p.152).
Plagiarism is essentially a misrepresentation, but the boundaries of plagiarism can sometimes be difficult to discern, especially for inexperienced students struggling to grasp complex or nuanced concepts.
In order to think critically about a problem – in order to more completely understand an issue and to develop our own stance or perspective – we need to recognize what previous work others may have done on that problem. We need to grapple with their ideas and explanations to decide if we agree or disagree with their assessments, if they satisfy the evidence available at that time, or if, perhaps, there might be some alternative explanation to consider.
Our ideas and insights have value, and it’s ok to express them with confidence. But learning also requires us to be attuned to different perspectives and new ways of thinking about issues. Our goal is not to become fixed in our thinking, but, rather, to be continually looking for better explanations and solutions. In this way, ideas build on one another.
Even experienced scholars sometimes struggle to determine where and when a new idea grows out of an existing one and how to credit established ideas which help to inspire new ones. This can be especially difficult for students. So, when in doubt, we should cite the sources that influence and inspire our thinking.