What Is Plagiarism?

Learning Objectives

Identify types of plagiarism and understand how to avoid them.

What Is Plagiarism?

The Definition

Sometimes students commit plagiarism intentionally, such as when they cut and paste sections from sources and drop them into the text of their paper. Other times, plagiarism happens by accident. Whether plagiarism occurs intentionally or unintentionally, it carries academic sanctions, which could range from losing points or failing an assignment to failing a class or expulsion from school.

Plagiarism is stealing. And stealing is wrong, whether you steal someone’s laptop or their words and ideas.


Academic integrity is essential to your student career and is something that will follow you throughout your life. Adopting good research ethics and practices (note taking, citing correctly, etc.) can help you avoid plagiarism and become a better student. When someone publishes their ideas, they become the intellectual property of that person. In academic writing, you may refer to and build upon the ideas of others, but you must give proper credit to them in your paper. By neglecting to give credit to the source of an idea, you are leading the reader of your paper to believe that the idea is your own.

What is unintentional plagiarism?

Plagiarism is often unintentional and there are some easy ways to avoid it. These are some of the most common mistakes people make that result in plagiarism:
  • Using the same paper for two different classes
  • Quoting a source incorrectly: for example, forgetting quotation marks or not properly introducing the source
  • Failing to properly introduce an idea you’ve drawn from someone else

Most unintentional plagiarism can be prevented by better time management and by managing your sources correctly. If you aren’t rushing to finish a paper, you’ll be able to avoid plagiarism.

What is intentional plagiarism?

Fabrication. Fabricating a source and quotes.

Mosaic plagiarism. Changing a few words from the original source and not citing it. (Proper paraphrasing requires more than just changing a few words from the original source).

Beefing up the bibliography. Adding references to your works cited page that you didn’t actually use.

Using a pre-written paper. Purchasing pre-written papers or getting someone else to write your paper.

Why should I care?

  • Respect for others’ work
  • Respect for your own work
  • Being a good citizen of the academic community

How do I benefit from avoiding plagiarism?

Finding your own voice. One of the goals of a college education is contributing to the body of knowledge. You can only do that by doing your own work.

Learning to Synthesize and Build upon the Knowledge of Others. The process of synthesis in academic writing—interacting with ideas from sources and adding your own ideas and conclusions—is part of becoming a scholar. You are reading and learning from the scholars who have shaped your chosen discipline. By properly citing the words and ideas of experts in your paper, you are bolstering and supporting your own arguments and developing the skills of a scholar.

Developing Time Management Skills. You need to allocate enough time to do proper research. You must find, evaluate, and acquire sources. You must read, digest, and synthesize information. You must keep track of your sources and cite them properly. Time and project management skills will be useful in your career and your life. It is far better to overestimate the time needed to complete an assignment rather than to underestimate it. A good tool to use is University of Minnesota Libraries’ Assignment Calculator.

What are the consequences of plagiarism?

Possible consequences include:
  • Cheating others
  • Cheating yourself
  • Failing an assignment and/or a course
  • Academic probation
  • Expulsion from school
  • Notation on your transcript

Bad habits are hard to break, and they have consequences. The specific consequences depend on your school’s policies. For a discussion/debate on a noted historian’s encounter with plagiarism, see this Slate.com article.

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