academic integrity

Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Citations: Why is Plagiarism Such an Issue?

Categories: Updates

Keep Calm and Don’t Plagiarize

Yes. I have fallen prey to that awful poster. It’s just so catchy. So here is your gratuitous picture:

Keep Calm and Don't Plagiarize

Academic integrity is a huge topic at universities. Many times, academic integrity violations can have serious consequence, sometimes even expulsion from the university, so it’s taken pretty seriously (See our own academic integrity policies at Citation can be a tricky process, especially when you’re first learning. Don’t worry, the WRC is here to help; we’ve got lots of practice with proper citations. But why does academia care so much?

I guess the first thing we need to talk about is the fact that in the United States, we follow what is called the Western definition of academic integrity. This idea is built around ownership of ideas, something that is very important in individualistic, capitalist cultures. If you own an idea, you can take credit for it, win awards for it, and make money off it, so Westerners tend to be very concerned with assigning proper ownership. This can be new if you’re an international student and used to another definition of academic integrity.

In different cultures, the definition of academic integrity can change; this isn’t bad, it’s just different.  When you immerse yourself in an academic culture, you will be judged by that culture’s standard. Bottom line: if you’re studying in the US, you need to follow the standards developed by Western academic integrity and defined by your university. UNC Chapel Hill has a great handout on plagiarism, found here:

Ownership of ideas is the key phrase in that last paragraph to illustrate why universities take such a hard stance on plagiarism. But there are other reasons, perhaps better reasons, why we cite our sources so well.

We cite others both to give them ownership of their ideas and to show our original work. Simply put, we’re giving credit where credit’s due. Another reason we cite is to show readers the path we took to get to our conclusions. This allows readers to see that we’ve done the proper background research, that our conclusions are sound, and that we’ve actually thought about what we’ve written, fitting our new information or conclusions in with current knowledge. A great benefit of proper citations is that it creates authority for you. The reader can see that you take your work seriously. Drawing out this path for readers also allows them to take the same path. They can pursue more information or try to recreate your research to discover new things for themselves.

Overall, citations are not there to make your life hard. They’re there to help you, the people who are reading you, and the people you read. However, citation practices may vary across disciplines. It’s a good idea to find an authority in your field and ask them about proper citation practices so that you can be a fully contributing member of your discourse community. If you have questions about paraphrasing, directly quoting, and citing, please, come in and see us. We’d love to help.

The librarians at Atkins are also here to help as well. Check out the UNC Charlotte Library Citation Guides ( and their Citation Workshop calendar for upcoming events.

For some more information on academic integrity in writing, take a look at this tutorial from UMUC’s Effective Writing Center (

Good luck and happy writing.