University Library

Avoiding Plagiarism

Have questions about what is permissible for your specific class?
Ask your professor for guidance.

What is Plagiarism?

According to Oxford English Dictionary, plagiarism is:

The action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft.

At Washington and Lee University, avoiding plagiarism and upholding academic integrity remains central to our honor system—and extends beyond the realm of literature and the printed word. Therefore, students must properly acknowledge the words, ideas, or intellectual labor of others. 

Plagiarism can be intentional or unintentional, comes in many forms, and is often context dependent.

Explore provided the blue tabs (on the left on a computer) to learn more and review examples. Still have questions? Email library@wlu.edu or contact one of our librarian subject specialists.

*All explicitly cited sources within this guide conform to the MLA Handbook, 9th ed. For guidance on this an other styles, browse our Citation Styles tab.*

What about Common Knowledge? 

Students are often told that information that is "common knowledge" does not need to be cited, but what is common knowledge? The following represents guidance from some of the major style manuals on this issue:

MLA Handbook

"Common knowledge includes information widely available in reference works, such as basic biographical facts about prominent persons and the dates and circumstances of major historical events" (4.13).

Chicago Manual of Style

"... if it’s something that most people would need to look up or that different sources treat differently, then you should identify which sources you used. Obviously, this calls for judgment and partly depends on who your readers are and what you can expect them to know" (The University of Chicago).

Basically, there isn't a universal solid definition on what is common knowledge. What counts as "common knowledge" is based on the discipline and your audience. An example might be, "Will Dudley is the President of Washington and Lee University." This is common knowledge on our campus - but not anywhere else. The best advice is: "When in doubt, cite." 

MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021. MLA Handbook Plus, 2021, mlahandbookplus.org.

The University of Chicago. “Citation, Documentation of Sources.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online, https://www-chicagomanualofstyle-org. Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.