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Last Updated: Nov 6, 2017 URL: Print Guide

What is Plagiarism? Print Page

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as your own.
Plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental.

Deliberate plagiarism happens when you take text or images (graphs, photos, artwork, etc.) from a book, encyclopedia article, website, or your roommate’s paper without citing where you found the information.  Buying a paper from a research service, online source, or your classmate is considered deliberate plagiarism, too.

Accidental plagiarism occurs when students fail to write complete and accurate citations.  This can happen in the following ways:
  • Leaving out quotation marks when quoting a source, even if you supply a citation at the end of your paper.
  • Paraphrasing materials from a source without appropriate documentation in a list of works cited or references.
  • Copying text or images from a source without proper acknowledgment in a list of works cited or references.

If you plagiarize, you could fail your course, be suspended, or even be expelled.  Avoid plagiarism by understanding the rules for quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing sources.

Click here for an online guide to citing sources.


Avoiding Plagiarism

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use:
  • another person's idea, opinion, or theory
  • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings -- any pieces of information -- that are not common knowledge
  • quotations of another person's actual spoken or written words
  • a paraphrase of another person's spoken or written words
More tips for avoiding plagiarism:

Put in quotation marks everything that comes directly from a source, especially when taking notes, and be sure to write down the words exactly as they’re written.
  • Paraphrase, but be sure you are not just rearranging or replacing a few words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text to be sure you have not accidentally used the same phrases or words, and that the information is accurate.
  • Cite every piece of information that is not a) the result of your own research, or b) common knowledge.
  • This includes opinions, arguments, and speculations as well as facts, details, figures, and statistics.
At the beginning of the first sentence in which you quote, paraphrase, or summarize, make it clear that what comes next is someone else's idea. These words are sometimes called signal phrases, because they signal to the reader that you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing:
  • According to Smith...
  • Jones says...
  • In his 1987 study, Robinson proved...
At the end of the last sentence containing quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material, insert a parenthetical citation to show where the material came from (notice the use of brackets to mark a change in the wording of the original):
EXAMPLE: The St. Martin's Handbook defines plagiarism as "the use of someone else's words or ideas as [the writer's] own without crediting the other person" (Lunsford and Connors 602).

Quotations, Paraphrasing, and Common Knowledge


A quotation is using someone's exact words. When you quote, place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and cite the source according to a citation style such as MLA, APA, or Chicago.  
Example of a proper quotation:

According to Peter S. Pritchard in USA Today, "Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young" (14).


Paraphrasing is using someone's ideas, but putting them in your own words. Although you use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge the source of the information.  A paraphrase should contain all of the author's information and none of your own commentary. Even if you have avoided using the author's vocabulary, sentence structure, or style, an unattributed paraphrase is plagiarism because it presents another person’s ideas as your own.

Original quote from Pritchard:
“Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young”
You are plagiarizing if you write: 
Public schools need to be reformed, but we can’t replace public schools’ roles of teaching youth in the United States.
Example of proper paraphrasing:  

Pritchard admits that public schools are the best approach to educating children in America, despite his demands to improve the system (14).


Common Knowledge

Common knowledge refers to facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people. You don’t need to document sources for these facts. 

Example of common knowledge: 

Because the following is a commonly known fact, it doesn’t need to be cited: 

John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960.

In the following, you do need to cite your source because the idea that "Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation" is an interpretation of facts:  

According the American Family Leave Coalition's new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation (6).



Paraphrasing Video


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