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Plagiarism is the use, theft, purchase, or obtaining by any means another's work or ideas, and the unacknowledged or insufficiently documented submission and/or incorporation of that work as one's own. It involves quoting or paraphrasing someone else's work without providing the source or properly assigning credit. This is not merely an offense of academic dishonesty which may result in failure of a course or dismissal from the university; it is also an illegal act subject to criminal prosecution.

It is easy to avoid plagiarism. Writers simply need to acknowledge the sources they use in writing their own work. Some instances of plagiarism are inadvertent, arising from inexperience and a misunderstanding of what a writer does and does not need to cite, but ignorance is not an excuse that carries a lot of weight. Here is a rough guide to what writers do and do not need to cite in their own work:

Materials that do not need to be acknowledged:
  • Information that is common knowledge. For example, a writer would not need to credit a source for the statement that Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas . The writer would, though, need to cite a source if he/she discussed information outside of common knowledge (e.g., Little Rock 's population, circumstances regarding the city's founding, etc.).
  • Information that is widely available in a variety of sources. A writer who mentions the fact that President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 would not need to cite a source for that information, even if the writer had to check to insure that the date was correct. If a borderline case arises, consult your teacher.
  • Information based on the writer's own field research. If you use information gathered from your own surveys, observations, and interviews, you only need to say so in your work.

Materials that do need to be acknowledged:
  • Direct quotations.
  • Summaries and paraphrases of someone else's words. Note that whereas a summary is a recapitulation or a succinct covering of a text's main points, a paraphrase is a rewording, perhaps a simplification, of a text. Borrowing from either requires that the user credit the source.
  • Facts not widely known and statements that are arguable. For example, the assertion that the U.S. is becoming increasingly socialistic is arguable, while the statement that Augustus attempted to reduce the size of the Senate, but gave it up in bafflement is (presumably) a fact beyond common knowledge. Writers should be careful in judging whether the borrowed information is fact or opinion and use the information fittingly in their own work.
  • Data such as statistics, tables, and other graphs not derived from your own work.

APSA Core Objectives

The Political Science Department subscribes to the Core Objectives of the American Political Science Association, the leading US professional organization for the study of political science, which are:

  • Promoting scholarly research and communication, domestically and internationally.
  • Promoting high quality teaching and education about politics and government.
  • Diversifying the profession and representing its diversity.
  • Increasing academic and non-academic opportunities for members.
  • Strengthening the professional environment for political science.
  • Representing the professional interests of political scientists.
  • Defending the legitimacy of scholarly research into politics and government.
  • Recognizing outstanding work in the discipline.
  • Encouraging the application of rigorous ethical and intellectual standards in the profession.
  • Serving the public, including disseminating research and preparing citizens to be effective citizens and political participants.

The "Ethics in Political Science" section of the APSA's web site is a good guide to the issues involved in developing and applying ethical standards, especially the Association's publication entitled "APSA Guide to Professional Ethics, Rights and Freedoms," which is also available at their website.

APSA Code of Ethics

Serve the Public Interest: Serve the public, beyond serving oneself.

  1. Exercise discretionary authority to promote the public interest.
  2. Oppose all forms of discrimination and harassment, and promote affirmative action.
  3. Recognize and support the public's right to know the public's business.
  4. Involve citizens in policy decision-making.
  5. Exercise compassion, benevolence, fairness and optimism.
  6. Respond to the public in ways that are complete, clear, and easy to understand.
  7. Assist citizens in their dealings with government.
  8. Be prepared to make decisions that may not be popular.

Respect the Constitution and the Law: Respect, support, and study government constitutions and laws that define responsibilities of public agencies, employees, and all citizens.

  1. Understand and apply legislation and regulations relevant to their professional role.
  2. Work to improve and change laws and policies that are counterproductive or obsolete.
  3. Eliminate unlawful discrimination.
  4. Prevent all forms of mismanagement of public funds by establishing and maintaining strong fiscal and management controls, and by supporting audits and investigative activities.
  5. Respect and protect privileged information.
  6. Encourage and facilitate legitimate dissent activities in government and protect the whistleblowing rights of public employees.
  7. Promote constitutional principles of equality, fairness, representativeness, responsiveness and due process in protecting citizens' rights.

Demonstrate Personal Integrity: Demonstrate the highest standards in all activities to inspire public confidence and trust in public service. 

  1. Maintain truthfulness and honesty and to not compromise them for advancement, honor, or personal gain.
  2. Ensure that others receive credit for their work and contributions.
  3. Zealously guard against conflict of interest or its appearance: e.g., nepotism, improper outside employment, misuse of public resources or the acceptance of gifts.
  4. Respect superiors, subordinates, colleagues and the public.
  5. Take responsibility for their own errors.
  6. Conduct official acts without partisanship.

Promote Ethical Organizations: Strengthen organizational capabilities to apply ethics, efficiency and effectiveness in serving the public.

  1. Enhance organizational capacity for open communication, creativity, and dedication.
  2. Subordinate institutional loyalties to the public good.
  3. Establish procedures that promote ethical behavior and hold individuals and organizations accountable for their conduct.
  4. Provide organization members with an administrative means for dissent, assurance of due process and safeguards against reprisal.
  5. Promote merit principles that protect against arbitrary and capricious actions.
  6. Promote organizational accountability through appropriate controls and procedures.
  7. Encourage organizations to adopt, distribute, and periodically review a code of ethics as a living document.

Strive for Professional Excellence: Strengthen individual capabilities and encourage the professional development of others.

  1. Provide support and encouragement to upgrade competence.
  2. Accept as a personal duty the responsibility to keep up to date on emerging issues and potential problems.
  3. Encourage others, throughout their careers, to participate in professional activities and associations.
  4. Allocate time to meet with students and provide a bridge between classroom studies and the realities of public service.