Handling Plagiarism

Each time you enter a new writing situation, you should figure out what your audience expects to see in your writing because these expectations differ in different writing situations. One expectation that can change considerably is the expectation for how and when you will use information from others and how you will acknowledge your use of that information. While the conventions of how you will acknowledge other's work may differ from one writing situation to another, one expectation remains constant. It’s plagiarism when you don’t acknowledge your use of other’s work, and the consequences for plagiarism can be quite severe. Below you will find the Written Rhetoric policy on plagiarism. This document will explain what is considered plagiarism in Written Rhetoric and what the consequences are for plagiarizing.

Please be sure that you understand this document completely. If you have any questions please consult your Written Rhetoric instructor or the Director of Written Rhetoric (Professor Kristine Johnson).

Definition of plagiarism

Students plagiarize when they do not credit the sources of their writing—the words, information, ideas, or opinions of others. Plagiarism takes several forms; plagiarism in all its forms deserves a response from the student’s instructor and from Calvin College

Context for the policy

Calvin College divides its core curriculum into three parts: knowledge, skills, and virtues. Studying in core courses like English 101, students expand their knowledge of God’s world, develop their ability to act effectively in that world, and deepen their commitment to living for God and for others. When students plagiarize, they reject the opportunity to learn something new, to understand alternative perspectives, and to develop their own opinions; they fail to develop the skills of research and writing that enhance their ability to understand, inform, and persuade; and they act contrary to the virtues that ought to guide their lives, virtues such as diligence, honesty, courage, stewardship, and justice.

Acts of plagiarism affect not only the plagiarizer but also the entire academic community. First, plagiarism taints the trust between instructor and student, creating a climate of suspicion. For example, instructors who have encountered plagiarism might be more inclined to question students’ integrity. Moreover, hoping to deter students from plagiarizing, instructors might be more likely to craft exceedingly narrow assignments, limiting students’ freedom to pursue academic research as their interests lead them. Acts of plagiarism also taint relationships among students and compromise the fairness of grades. Finally, acts of plagiarism challenge the academic reputation of Calvin College and all its graduates.

Extended definition:

A first step toward avoiding plagiarism is understanding plagiarism in all its forms. The English 101 Committee, therefore, provides the following extended definition of plagiarism.

1. Students plagiarize if they submit as their own work any of the following:

a. An entire essay written by someone else. This form of plagiarism includes, for example, essays purchased from web sites that specialize in academic essays, essays published on the web or in other sources, and unpublished essays written by others.

b. The exact words of someone else without quotation marks around those words. This form of plagiarism can include copying exact wording without quotation marks even if a student provides documentation in the “Works Cited” section.

c. A paraphrase of someone else’s words without documentation. This form of plagiarism includes reordering or replacing someone else’s words while keeping the main idea or the central information.

d. A summary of someone else’s words or ideas without documentation. This form of plagiarism includes using some, few, or even none of the original words to reproduce a shorter version of some or all of someone else’s ideas or text.

e. Undocumented use of information from someone else. In this kind of plagiarism, a student takes information that she found in a particular source and presents it as her own knowledge or as common knowledge. A student must document information that appears in one or only a few specialized sources, is the work or idea of a particular person, or represents a controversial stance on a topic. A student need not document information that is common knowledge.

f. Undocumented use of information that someone else has collected. A student must document research aids such as web-based “research” services and annotated bibliographies.

g. The sequence of ideas, arrangement of material, pattern of thought, or visual representation of information (images, tables, charts, or graphs) from someone else. This form of plagiarism includes any of these textual features even if students present the ideas or information in their own words.

2. Students are accomplices to plagiarism if they do any of the following:

a. They allow a fellow student to submit their work as the student’s own, or they write an essay for another student and allow that student to submit it as his or her own.

b. They do not report a fellow student who plagiarizes.

c. They contribute an essay to a collection of essays (among friends or at a web site) that they know provides opportunity for other students to plagiarize.


Written Rhetoric instructors should treat both suspicions and evidence of plagiarism as opportunities to help students understand the moral and legal ramifications of plagiarism. Furthermore, instructors should see these as occasions to teach students ways to avoid plagiarism. Because the effects of plagiarism are so great, Written Rhetoric students should carefully learn and practice writing behaviors that ensure that they do not plagiarize; instructors should do all they can to help students avoid plagiarizing.

1. An instructor who suspects that a student has plagiarized should first discuss those suspicions with the student. The instructor should explain the basis for the suspicions and ask the student to respond to these suspicions with reasoning and with evidence either from the student’s research (sources and notes on sources) or from his drafts. It is a student’s responsibility to keep all the materials that he used when writing an essay for Written Rhetoric.

2. An instructor who finds proof of plagiarism should discuss the proof with the student, calling the student’s attention to the moral implications and academic ramifications of plagiarism. According to the Student Handbook, “In cases where the student admits to academic dishonesty, a faculty member may impose an academic sanction without a hearing [of the Student Discipline Committee]” (70). Normally, instructors fail work for which they have proof of plagiarism. Instructors also have the right to fail the student in the course, although usually they exercise this right only after consulting with the Director of Written Rhetoric.

3. Calvin College requires that instructors report all cases of academic dishonesty—including all cases of plagiarism—to the Student Life office using the process described on this page. The Vice President for Student Life then decides what additional measures, if any, the case merits.

Students and instructors should consult their writing handbooks for additional discussion of these topics.

This plagiarism statement draws from both The New St. Martin’s Handbook and a draft version of the Plagiarism Statement from the National Council of Writing Program Administrators.