Sir Walter Scott is often quoted for, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” This statement could summarize the potential dilemma that develops after someone intentionally commits plagiarism in their research and writing. Did you realize that plagiarism is not a legal issue in the U.S. but rather an ethical one? Plagiarism may violate academic principles or develop into the grounds for dismissal from one's job, but it is not a law. Plagiarism not only deceives its readers, it also withholds useful citations and attributions that readers might have used to seek additional information. However, before posing a plagiarism allegation, one should verify the authorship condition and understand what plagiarism is. Otherwise, defamation, and privacy rights could muddy the waters further.

A recent news headline from the New York Times, “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age,” says it all about this hot topic. Not only is it contentious for teachers, but also for younger Web generation students who are redefining, “the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.”[i] Many students cut-and-paste from the Web without attribution and truly believe there is no reason to credit others for such works and then claim it as their own work.

So how do we prevent plagiarism and encourage originality in our research and writing? We know that we need to avoid plagiarism. However, many younger students and those new to scholarly research and writing are often confused how to cite sources and when to cite sources referenced. Our Creative Thinking program addresses these and related question. Creative Thinking offers lessons and activities for educators to utilize for this purpose. See for educator lessons and resources.

For students or those new to research and writing, Purdue OWL site offers a Plagiarism student awareness guide. It addresses the most pertinent associated topics such as quoting and paraphrasing, documenting sources, and more. See for details.

[1] Trip Gabriel, “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age,” New York Times, August 1, 2010,, accessed 16 May 2012.

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