Understanding Plagiarism

(Adapted from the “Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices” from Council of Writing Program Administrators: http://wpacouncil.org/files/wpa-plagiarism-statement.pdf)


We, teachers and administrators in the writing program, respect our students and instructors and expect them to work together to help each other develop as writers and bearers of knowledge. Our goal is to help instructors work with students to become better aware of their process of relating to sources so they don’t make mistakes that can be construed as either intentional or unintentional plagiarism.

Error is a natural part of learning. Students make mistakes as they learn how to integrate others’ words or ideas into their own writing; however, they must take responsibility for their work, just as instructors must work with students in understanding their responsibilities as writers. We acknowledge that sometimes students plagiarize intentionally or unintentionally, and that instructors are often aware of the differences on some level; ignoring either intention will not help students become effective knowledge seekers. We consider it an intentional act when students overtly acquire and incorporate text they did not author, which must be acknowledged by the instructor and the writing program.

Through their writing, students engage with research, to understand, augment, engage in dialogue with, and challenge the work of others, which are all part of becoming an effective citizen in a complex society. Ethical writers make every effort to acknowledge sources fully and appropriately in accordance with the contexts and genres of their work. Students who attempt to identify and credit their sources but misuse a citation format or incorrectly use quotation marks, in-text citations, or other forms of identifying material taken from other sources, have unintentionally plagiarized and should not be criminalized as thieves. Instead, students should be considered to have failed to cite and document sources appropriately within Western cultural-specific and discipline-specific conventions for attribution.

Instructors should teach students how to cite correctly rather than punish them for something they may not have known how to do. In addition, instructors may guide students in better understanding their own perspectives, positions, and how to negotiate outside sources without appropriating them. While we believe plagiarism is serious and must be addressed with students being held accountable for their actions, it is up to the individual instructor in consultation with the Writing Program Administrator to handle each case.


This statement does not replace New Mexico State University’s “Statement on Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Avoid It,” definitions of plagiarism from Academic Misconduct, a section of the NMSU Student Handbook.