Defining Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the unauthorized or uncredited use of the writings or ideas of another in your writing. While it might not be as tangible as auto theft or burglary, plagiarism is still a form of theft.Stick figure drawing of a politician speaking at pulpit, with someone in the audience holding up a sign saying "citation needed"

Examples of plagiarism include:

  • Turning in someone else’s paper as your own
  • Using the exact words of a source without quotation marks and/or a citation
  • Taking an image, chart, or statistic from a source without telling where it originated
  • Copying and pasting material from the internet without quotation marks and/or a citation
  • Including another person’s idea without crediting the author

In the academic world, plagiarism is a serious matter because ideas in the forms of research, creative work, and original thought are highly valued. Chances are, your school has strict rules about what happens when someone is caught plagiarizing. The penalty for plagiarism is severe, everything from a failing grade for the plagiarized work, a failing grade for the class, or expulsion from the institution.

You might not be aware that plagiarism can take several different forms. The most well known, intentional or purposeful plagiarism, is handing in an essay written by someone else and representing it as your own, copying your essay word for word from a magazine or journal, or downloading an essay from the Internet.

A much more common and less understood phenomenon is unintentional or accidental plagiarism. Accidental plagiarism is the result of improperly paraphrasing, summarizing, quoting, or citing your evidence in your academic writing. Generally, writers accidentally plagiarize because they simply don’t know or they fail to follow the rules for giving credit to the ideas of others in their writing.

Both intentional and unintentional plagiarism are wrong, against the rules, and can result in harsh punishments. Ignoring or not knowing the rules of how to not plagiarize and properly cite evidence might be an explanation, but it is not an excuse.

Flow chart guide to understanding written plagiarism. The first question asks, "are my own words being used?" If yes, then ask, "is it my own idea?" If yes, then you're not plagiarizing, but if it's not your own idea, then you are paraphrasing and need a citation. If your own words are NOT being used, then you need to ask if you are using quotation marks or using a block quote. If you are not, then you are plagiarizing and need to quote it.