What is Plagiarism?
Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work, or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense:
According to the Council of Writing Program Administrators (2003), plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source.
This definition applies to texts published in print or on-line, to manuscripts, and to the work of other student writers.
In most colleges and universities, plagiarism commonly occurs when students:
- Submit someone else’s text as one’s own or attempting to blur the line between one’s own ideas or words and those borrowed from another source, and/or
- Carelessly or inadequately citing ideas and words borrowed from another source.
In other words, to “plagiarize” means:
- to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
- to use (another's production) without crediting the source
- to commit literary theft
- to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
Ultimately, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.
But can words and ideas really be stolen?
According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. In the United States and many other countries, the expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some media (such as a book or a computer file). [However, it is important to note that plagiarism and copyright infringement are not one in the same. Plagiarism is an issue of academic integrity. Copyright infringement is a legal issue. Please read the copyright information provided on this website for additional information on copyright issues.]
All of the following are considered plagiarism:
- turning in someone else’s work as your own
- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)
Contrary to popular student belief, Changing the words of an original source is not sufficient to prevent plagiarism. If you have retained the essential idea of an original source, and have not cited it, then no matter how drastically you may have altered its context or presentation, you have still plagiarized.
Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing your sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.
For more information on plagiarism, read Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The Council of Writing Program Administrators Statement on Best Practices.
Council of Writing Program Administrators. (2003, January). Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism. Retrieved August 14, 2016, from
What is Plagiarism? (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2016, from http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism/