Plagiarism: Curricular Materials for History Instructors
Two groups of plagiarism exercises appear below, one for undergraduate students and one for graduate students. The undergraduate exercises focus on prevention by helping students understand correct summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and citation. The graduate student exercise encourages a deeper understanding of how scholars use sources in their work. Both sections contain discussion questions that emphasize the kinds of situations that undergraduates or graduates are likely to encounter. Instructors are encouraged to tailor the assignments to suit their individual needs and teaching styles.
Exercise 1: Summarizing, Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Citing
The exercise below provides students with a text and asks them to paraphrase, summarize, and cite it. The instructor must then evaluate their work. To give students more control over the assignment, instructors can ask them to work with an Internet text of their own choosing. Students must understand the difference between paraphrasing and summarizing before attempting the assignment.
Pretend that you are writing an essay on how the frontier experience shaped the development of the United States. While researching, you come across the following passage written by the historian Frederick Jackson Turner:
April 26, 2007tire passage in your essay. Remember that a paraphrase records all the important details of a passage, and a summary condenses a passage to the main ideas.
From the conditions of frontier life came intellectual traits of profound importance. The work of travelers along each frontier from colonial days onward describe certain common traits, and these traits have, while softening down, still persisted as survivals in the place of their origin, even when a higher social organization succeeded. The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier. (Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” The Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920), 37.)
1. In your own words, write the best paraphrase you can of Turner’s passage. Write a citation for your paraphrase.
2. In your own words, write the best summary you can of Turner’s passage. Write a citation for your summary.
3. Rewrite your summary or paraphrase to include a quotation from Turner’s passage. What is the best way to cite both the summary or paraphrase and the quotation?
4. Purposely write a poor paraphrase and summary of the above passage with poor quotations and citations, and make a short list of the characteristics that make them poor.
Exercise 2: Quoting and Citing
The following exercise asks students to find their own sources, write citations for them, and then practice quoting and citing material from them. The instructor should provide directions regarding the preferred style of citation (Chicago, MLA, etc.). The exercise is adapted with only slight alterations from one developed by Maureen Nutting of the Department of History in North Seattle Community College, and is used with her permission.
1. Find one book that deals with a topic in U.S. history from earliest settlement to the 1860s. Provide a full citation for that book: author or editor (last name first, then first name); title; edition, if indicated; place of publication; publisher; and date of publication.
a. Select a phrase from page 100 of the book. Write a sentence in which you quote from the book, using that phrase, and add a footnote number to the end of the sentence. Then create a footnote/endnote for the sentence that includes author’s name; title; place of publication; publisher; date of publication; and page number. Attach a photocopy of page 100.
b. Select an idea from page 130 of the same book. Paraphrase that idea in a sentence (that is, put the idea in your own words) and add a footnote number to the end of the sentence. Then create a footnote/endnote citation for the sentence. Attach a photocopy of page 130.
2. Find a web site that deals with a topic in U.S. history from earliest settlement to the 1860s. Write a citation for the web site that provides the following: name of author or page maintainer, if there is one; name of the page; URL; date accessed.
3. Find an article in a history journal that deals with a topic in U.S. history from earliest settlement to the 1860s. Provide a full citation: author; title of article (inside quotation marks); name, number, volume, and date of journal; and pages on which the article appears.
a. Write a sentence in which you quote from the first page of the article. Provide a footnote/endnote for the quote.
b. Write a sentence in which you paraphrase an idea from the second page of the article. Provide a footnote for the paraphrase. Attach a photocopy of the first two pages of the article.
4. Find an article in a newspaper that deals with a topic in U.S. history from earliest settlement to the 1860s. Write a citation to the article that includes the following information: author’s name, if given; title of article; name of newspaper; date; and page, if given.
5. Find an article in an online database that deals with a topic in U.S. history from earliest settlement to the 1860s. Provide a full citation: author; title of article (inside quotation marks); name, number, volume, and date of journal; start page for the article or number of paragraphs; URL; and date accessed.
Exercise 3: Summarizing, Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Citing
Instructors should explain the proper use of summary, paraphrase, quotation, and citation before assigning the following exercise.
The passage below, taken from George Trevelyan’s England in the Age of Wycliffe, 1368–1520, discusses the Peasant’s Rising of 1381. The sentences that follow it use the passage as a source. Determine whether the sentences use and cite the material in the passage properly or whether they constitute plagiarism, and rewrite the sentences where necessary. All notation symbols refer to the footnote at the bottom of the exercise.
The demand for personal freedom, which had been the chief cause of revolt, was for the moment crushed. The Parliament of November gratefully confirmed the King’s repeal of the liberating charters. A unanimous vote of county and town members together contradicted all rumours that the emancipation of the serfs was seriously considered by Parliament. The Rising had failed. But the process of manumission, which had been going on for so long, continued steadily during succeeding generations. Under the Tudors the last remains of serfage were swept away, and in James the First’s reign it became a legal maxim that every Englishman was free. It must remain a matter of opinion whether this process was accelerated or retarded by the Peasants’ Rising; it is impossible to apply hard facts to the solution of such a problem. (George Macaulay Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe, 1368-1520 (1899; reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 253.)
1. The events that followed the Peasant’s Rising crushed the chief cause of the revolt: the demand for personal freedom.1 [Plagiarism. The sentence uses identical language to that found in the passage from Trevelyan: “chief cause of the revolt” and “the demand for personal freedom.”]
2. Trevelyan found it difficult to determine the effect that the Peasant’s Rising had on the development of freedom in England.1 [Correct. The sentence summarizes Trevelyan’s idea and cites the source.]
3. Although freedom did not come all at once for England’s serfs, George Trevelyan claims in England in the Age of Wycliffe, 1368–1520, that manumission “continued steadily during succeeding generations.” [Incorrect citation. The writer may be trying to cite the source in the text, rather than in the notes, and fails to include the page number. But since the writer does place the borrowed material in quotation marks and attempts to cite Trevelyan, the sentence does not represent plagiarism.]
4. According to George Trevelyan, a vote confirming the King’s repeal of the liberating charters “contradicted all rumours that the emancipation of the serfs was seriously considered by Parliament.”1 [Plagiarism. Although the writer correctly cites the material in quotation marks, the phrase “confirming the King’s repeal of the liberating charters” precisely tracks Trevelyan’s language but remains unattributed.]
5. The idea that all Englishmen were born free did not become a common belief until the reign of James the First.1 [Correct. The sentence summarizes Trevelyan’s claim and cites the source.]
6. Although the actions of the King and Parliament after the Peasant’s Rising denied freedom to England’s serfs, serfdom nevertheless continued to erode. By the reign of the Tudors, it had disappeared completely, and by the time of James the First, all Englishmen considered themselves free. The role played by the Peasant’s Rising in this transition remains unclear. [Plagiarism. This is a good summary of Trevelyan’s paragraph, but it fails to cite the source.]
7. The King of England reneged on his promises to the peasants, and in November 1381, Parliament confirmed the King’s actions. [Correct. Since the sentence relies on Trevelyan only for factual material that is widely available elsewhere, the writer does not need to cite the source.]
1 George Macaulay Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe, 1368-1520 (1899; reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 253.
Exercise 4: Discussion Questions
Instructors should discuss the fundamentals of plagiarism with students before asking them for reactions to the scenarios that follow. Students must understand the proper use of paraphrase, summary, quotation, and citation, and the reasons that plagiarism is wrong, before they venture into grayer areas of ethical behavior.
1. The night before the paper was due in Morgan’s course on World War II, a classmate approached her to proofread his final draft. As she read Ben’s paper, Morgan realized that he had copied several paragraphs directly from a source that she also had consulted. Morgan advised Ben to rework the paragraphs or, at the very least, to set them in quotation marks and cite the source. After handing in their papers the next day, Morgan asked Ben if he was satisfied with his final revisions. She was startled when Ben confessed that he had passed in his paper without making the changes she had suggested. What should Morgan do?
2. Ted worked hard on the final paper for his class in Southeast Asian history and was pleased with the result. When the professor handed back his paper, however, she pulled Ted aside and showed him several passages that he had taken verbatim from well-known books on similar topics. During the conversation, Ted realized that sloppy note taking had led to the similarities. He produced the notebook in which he copied the passages and showed the professor where he neglected to write down the sources. Ted claimed that he had mistaken the passages for his own words when consulting the notebook to write his paper. The professor agreed that the copying was unintentional. Was Ted still guilty of plagiarism?
Exercise 1: Checking Citations
The classic plagiarism exercise used with graduate students is to give them a work of history and instruct them to verify its sources by checking the notes for particular pages or chapters. The exercise introduces graduate students to how a practicing historian handles notation, reinforces its importance, and teaches them how to detect plagiarism. The exercise is most useful, however, to those students who have access to a large research library. Instructors should place works cited in the notes on reserve so that students do not have to compete for them.
Exercise 2: Discussion Questions
1. Samantha hoped that her dissertation, a biography of George Washington, would bring new insights to a familiar subject. After reading several of her chapters, Samantha’s advisor noticed a number of passages that resembled sections in previously published biographies. He asked Samantha to rework the passages but, to his surprise, Samantha defended the textual similarities as unavoidable. All Washington biographers, she noted, drew on the same set of primary sources and described the same events. Although she interpreted these sources and events differently, she claimed that framing them in similar patterns and echoing previous works was inevitable. Samantha’s argument convinced her advisor, and the passages remained as they were. Did they make the right decision?
2. When Kathy’s seminar professor announced that the topic for the research paper would be the trans-Atlantic slave trade, she was greatly relieved. Kathy had written a strong paper on slavery the prior semester, and she hoped to use it for background. As the due date approached, however, Kathy found herself pressed for time and copied two paragraphs almost word for word from the old paper into the new. Something about reusing the passages troubled her, but she was confident that she could not plagiarize herself. Was she right?
3. Short on time to complete his paper on the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton for an undergraduate history class, Bill resorted to cutting and pasting material from Internet sites. He got caught. The professor discovered that Bill had copied at least 10 percent of his paper directly from other sources, and without attribution. Bill was penitent, but claimed the extent and kind of copying to be a mitigating factor. A full 90 percent of the paper represented his own work, Bill noted, when he could have copied the entire paper from the web. And the paper’s thesis was original. He insisted that the professor consider these facts when determining his punishment. How should the professor respond? Is there a relationship between the extent and kind of plagiarism and the magnitude of the offense?
4. Connor had been a teaching assistant in a Latin American history course for only four weeks when two students handed in remarkably similar papers. Although the language in the papers was not identical, their arguments, evidence, and organization strongly echoed each other. The assignment had given students a choice of five questions to answer, and since the two students had chosen the same question, some similarities might be expected. But Connor remained suspicious. When he met with the students, they apologized for the similarities and explained that they had worked closely in the early stages of writing by brainstorming approaches to the question and outlining their answers together. Connor concluded that the similarities resulted from too close a collaboration and were probably unintentional. Were the students guilty of plagiarism? How should Connor handle the problem?
5. Why is a reputation for professional integrity valuable? What are the possible prices that a graduate student or professor might pay for the perception of plagiarism? How can you ensure that your own work avoids the ethical ambiguities explored in the questions above?
Last Updated: April 26, 2007