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Collaboration & Common Knowledge


Collaboration is defined as:

  • Two or more students working together on a phase of an assignment. Working together does not mean that one student does the work, and the other student just copies it!
  • Collaboration is allowed and encouraged under certain conditions, as long as you are honest about it. You often learn best from your peers (Collaboration Policies of CSci51 at George Washington University and MIT Policies and Procedures Section 10).

You know that:

  • All work submitted in a course must be your own whether it is homework, lab reports, papers, or take-home exams.
  • You should always be careful that you only use your own ideas and cite any work that comes from another source.
  • When you think of the word “source,” you must think of not only primary and secondary sources found in the library or on the Internet, but you must also think about giving credit for a friend’s ideas or ideas from your parents.
  • You are responsible for learning the proper citation forms that you must use when putting the ideas of others into your written projects.
  • You must remember that when you get your ideas from your reading or research or from a friend, you must cite properly and also remember that you cannot use the same paper for multiple classes without your instructor’s permission.
  • The amount of collaboration that is permitted in a course can vary from professor to professor; however, you must always assume that collaboration is not allowed unless you have detailed permission from your instructor.
  • If you are allowed to collaborate, you must acknowledge others’ ideas.

Common Knowledge:

There are many schools of thought concerning what is or is not considered to be common knowledge. While some experts believe that the information must be found in three (3) independent sources for it to be considered common knowledge, other experts such as Purdue’s Online Writing Lab recommends finding the information in at least five (5) independent sources before considering the information to be common knowledge.

Also, you will need to consider the discipline-specific sources. In other words in the field of medicine, you might have information that can be found in numerous medical journals; however, the general public may not be aware of this information. For those cases, you should cite the source.

Finally, you should remember that if you are not sure if information is common knowledge or not, you are best to cite the source. It is much easier to remove a citation from a draft than to search for the source later.

Intellectual Boundaries:

  • Understanding plagiarism means understanding the boundaries between your ideas and the ideas of others, knowing where your ideas end and theirs start.
  • In fact, the word "plagiarism" comes from the Latin word plagiarius, meaning "kidnapper."
  • When you plagiarize, you're taking someone, not just their ideas.
  • To avoid plagiarism, you need to maintain that boundary between yourself, your ideas, and the many others you'll encounter in class and your readings.
  • That's precisely the difference when a student's peers are helping her correct the words already in her paper. These are her ideas and the peers are only making sure she expresses them more clearly.
  • But as soon as a friend starts changing paragraphs or even a sentence, the ideas are changing as well. They no longer belong to the student, but to the friend. The boundary has been crossed.

But that's not always an easy boundary to find, because often so much of the work we do in the classroom is collaborative.

Adapted from Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, Plagiarism Policy

Advice: Never have a friend or parent heavily edit your paper or work without your citing that the work does not belong to you. Your work must be your own!

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