Experts Explore Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

With so much existing material readily available on the Internet today, it can be quite a challenge for students to create original work. By definition, plagiarism is the practice of stealing someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. Students may unintentionally plagiarize if they aren't aware of the codes of conduct that stress academic integrity. Unfortunately, the consequences are not pretty. With that said, we have put together this nifty guide to educate students on plagiarism and the steps they can take to prevent it when completing assignments and papers for their classes.

The Importance of Academic Integrity

Attending college is a privilege that many don't get. With that said, colleges and universities have strict codes of conduct to maintain academic integrity in each of their students. Plagiarism is a form of cheating that cannot be tolerated. While rules may vary slightly from school to school, plagiarism, no matter what for, is a serious offense.

Think about this: You worked really hard on a paper with your own original thoughts and ideas, and someone else comes along, steals it, and takes credit for it. How do you feel? Not only does taking someone else's work cheapen the idea of academic integrity and intellectual honesty, it is not unfair to other students who work hard to produce original content and earn a grade they deserve.

Many written assignments will require thorough research. With that said, it's not always expected of the student to come up with ideas that are 100% their own. However, it is very important to cite the source material within your paper when you are using someone else's point to prove your own. Providing a citation is the best way to avoid getting in trouble for plagiarism.

There are many risks that come with plagiarism. Not only are you risking your grade, you're also risking your reputation and long-term academic success. No matter what kind of time crunch you're in, you're better off taking the time to actually do your own work rather than steal someone else's.

Proper Citation & How to Prevent Plagiarism

There are different ways to cite your sources depending on how you are implementing their work into your own. To help you prevent plagiarism, we have put together some tips and guidance on when citing is necessary to prevent plagiarism.

When is Citing Necessary?

Whenever you are using someone else's ideas or work to support your points, it is necessary to properly cite the appropriate sources. Of course, it can be difficult to distinguish the gray areas. For example, do we cite something we find someone else wrote that is also seemingly common sense? Or what about when summarizing or paraphrasing a point?

Generally speaking, common knowledge and factual information are exempt from plagiarism restrictions. However, complex ideas, statistics, and opinions are fair game and should always be cited accordingly.

To be on the safe side, it's always a good idea to throw in the original author's name into the mix even if your summary is in your own words. However, if you are using someone else's ideas word-for-word, then you most definitely should be citing with quotation marks embedded in your paper.

How Do I Cite My Sources?

Depending on the class and your professor's request, there are a number of ways you can cite your sources. Many classes opt for the Modern Language Association (MLA) formatting, but there are also others that prefer the American Psychological Association (APA) formatting. Occasionally, you might have to employ the Associated Press & Chicago stylebook formatting.

Let's review some of the common types of plagiarism as noted by the Harvard College Writing Program's Guide to Using Sources, and what you can do to avoid it yourself. We'll use a passage from Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye:

Uncited Quotation

Using quotation marks around sourced material alone is not enough! Don't forget to add proper citation as well.

Example: But how can we rate the quality in literature? "We have to adopt the hypothesis, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is an order for words".

Proper Citation: Frye posits the thought that "we have to adopt the hypothesis, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is an order for words".

Uncited paraphrase

Even when you mostly reword a piece, you want to be sure to give your source proper credit for their ideas and content by adding proper citation with your summary. You can add the citation either before the paraphrase by first introducing the author, or after in parentheses at the end of the section.

Example: If we look at literature as an order for words, then we can systematically study it and rate its quality.

Proper Citation: Frye cites that if we look at literature as an order for words, then we can systematically study it and rate its quality.

Verbatim Plagiarism

When you take someone else's ideas or content word-for-word, it's essential to make a clear indication that you borrowed it from them to prove your point. To do this, simply add quotation marks around their words and a citation either before or after the quote.

Example: It is clear that criticism cannot be a systematic study unless there is a quality in literature which enables it to be so.

Proper Citation: As Frye suggests in his essay on criticism, "It is clear that criticism cannot be a systematic systematic study unless there is a quality in literature which enables it to be so."

How Do I Prevent Plagiarism?

With so many deadlines and other obligations, it's no surprise that college students are anxious about their grades. This anxiety can result in a variety of detriments, including disorganization… and plagiarism. However, it is not worth plagiarizing text to meet a deadline in hopes that you won't get caught. Chances are, you will, and you will regret your last minute choice. Below are some useful tips for students looking to prevent plagiarism all together and avoid the nasty consequences that come with getting caught.

In doubt? Just cite it.

If you're ever unsure about whether something is cite-worthy, but you obtained the knowledge or information from a source during your research, it's better to err on the safe side and credit it appropriately. Remember that if you took the text word-for-word from a source into your paper, then you should definitely provide a citation. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to writing, but it's always better to be safe than sorry!

Start your assignments early & manage your time well.

Studies have shown that students tend to plagiarize when they feel that they don't have enough time to complete an assignment well. The truth is, good writing takes more than just one night. So, for all you students thinking you can get away with pulling all-nighters to ace a 12-page paper, think again. Research alone can take several days before a student starts writing his/her paper.

With that said, get a head start on your assignments so that you can ask any questions as needed and even have your TA or professor read through your paper for feedback. Get your class readings and research done early on, so that you can spend more time on writing your paper and incorporating the new knowledge you've gained.

Starting early also has other benefits. Not only will you be less stressed throughout the whole writing process, you will be able to think a lot more clearly. When you're not rushed, you're less likely to forget to cite something or improperly do so.

Keep everything organized.

Since writing a lengthy paper will require plenty of research and drafting, it's a good idea to keep your thoughts, research, and drafts organized. For example, you may spend the first couple days doing research and collecting evidence to support your future claims. When doing this, you may be pulling quotes word-for-word from a source, or you could be paraphrasing. To avoid confusion in the future when you're actually writing the paper, it's a good idea to clearly indicate where you've summarized and where you've copied and pasted text. This way, you avoid accidentally stealing someone else's work or ideas when creating your own. At the editing stage, you may also want to consider revising any paraphrases without looking at the original source to make your text as original as possible.

Need help? Take advantage of your college's writing centers.

If you think you might need help on properly citing your sources in your papers, then it may be worthwhile to look into possible writing centers that your university may have. While there are plenty of online resources available on the Internet, sometimes it can give a student a peace of mind to get help from someone face-to-face. These centers usually have writing professionals there to help students become aware of plagiarism and how to write and cite the right way.

Do your best.

Too much pressure or the fear of failure can result in accidental plagiarism. With that said, it's advisable that students take it easy and just give it their best stab. It's not worth getting yourself worked up over a paper only for it to all backfire on you. Remember that you don't have to ace every single assignment to graduate, so it's better to just relax and do your best!

How is Plagiarism Different from Copyright Infringement?

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are only similar in the sense that they both involve copying someone else's work. Beyond that though, there are many key differences. Copyright infringement is illegal and you can be prosecuted for it. On the other hand, plagiarism is a violation of an academic code and can get you expelled from a school or receive failing grades, but you can not be jailed or fined for plagiarizing.

Copyrighted material

means someone owns the usage of a specific expression - such as a logo, song, movie scene, written phrases in a novel, and much more are examples of what could be under copyright protection. To use this material for your purposes, you would be required to get permission from the copyright owner. Getting permission from the copyright owner can sometimes be simply asking to use it, but in most cases you would need to pay a licensing fee. Only the copyright owner can reproduce copies of the copyrighted material, perform/display the work publicly, create derivative works, and distribute copies of the work for profit or rent.


is a serious offense, but you cannot be prosecuted by a court of law for it. It is an offense against the author of the original work, and is most applicable towards ideas that are copied, for example someone giving a speech that is very similar to someone else's speech from previous courses. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to always give credit where credit is due and cite your sources. You cannot avoid copyright infringement by simply giving credit, as to use copyrighted material always requires a licensing fee or at the very least, permission from the copyright owner.

Remember that attending college is a privilege that not everyone gets, and is a place for learning. Artist Maximillian Degenerez leaves us with this quote, "A brainy person does not abuse copyright; instead they respect it and uphold it." This is what we are encouraging students to do.

Plagiarism Statistics

To provide you with a bit more perspective on the prevalence of plagiarism and why it's so important to bring it to the attention of students today, we have compiled some relevant statistics on the issue.

  • Dr. Donald McCabe is a leading researcher on plagiarism at the International Center for Academic Integrity. According to reputable source, 64% of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58% admitted to plagiarism, and 95% participated in some form of cheating, whether it be on a test, copying homework, or plagiarizing.

  • The Open Education Database shares a survey of over 63,000 undergraduate students and 9,250 graduate students showed the following: 36% admitted "paraphrased/copied few sentences from the internet without footnoting it", 38% admitted to "paraphrasing/copying few sentences from written source without footnoting it", 14% admitted to "fabricating/falsifying a bibliography", 7% admitted copying materials almost word for word from a written source without citation, 7" admitted to turning in work done by another, and 3% who obtained paper from a term paper mill.

  • According to the Open Education Database, an informal poll from 2007 showed that 60.8% of 30,000 students admitted that they cheated on tests and assignments. 16.5% of those who admitted to cheating, had no regret about cheating. This leads many to postulate that those who had no regrets may think their actions are justified when they are rewarded with scholarships and other benefits of good grades.

  • The Open Education Database notes that 85% of 1,800 college students said that they feel cheating is essential to staying ahead of their peers. They believe they must cheat to get scholarships and grants.

  • indicates that 75-98% of undergraduates who plagiarize, said they started in high school or earlier. This leads experts to believe the greater emphasis on grades in middle school and high school is causing more and more students to cheat.

  • Education experts Kim Parker, Amanda Lenhart, and Kathleen Moore found that 55% of college presidents note that in the past 10 years, students have plagiarized in their papers more than ever. They suggest that the Internet and computers play a major role in this increase.

Commonly Asked Questions about Plagiarism

There are many gray areas when it comes to the topic of plagiarism. Often times, students get overwhelmed because they don't know what is considered plagiarism and what isn't. Below are some scenarios and common questions that students often have:

I'm running out of time to write my own paper and I've hired someone to do it for me. Will I get in trouble for plagiarism?

This act does not fall under the definition of plagiarism, unless the person you paid went and copied someone else's work to give to you to turn in. However, it is a form of cheating, which is also not tolerated in school. As much as this might sound like common sense: do your own work!

I forgot to leave the proper source while doing my research. Now, it's time to write the paper and I don't know what to cite. Can I make up a source? Is this considered plagiarism?

Making up a source is not necessarily plagiarism; however, it is highly discouraged because it compromises academic integrity.

If I find information relevant to my paper and reword it completely, is it considered plagiarism?

This is a common gray area and professors may be more lenient in these cases. However, to be on the safe side, it never hurts to just cite within the paragraph or text somewhere to indicate where you got the text. Since you aren't copying someone else's words and ideas word-for-word, chances are, you won't get penalized.

I have to write a research paper for my current class that is similar to one I previously wrote for another. Can I reuse parts of my own work to resubmit?

This is a great question. The answer will vary case by case. Some professors condone it, while others don't mind. You will want to double check with your professor and teaching assistant to see whether this is acceptable. Since it doesn't fall under the category of stealing someone else's work, it's technically not considered plagiarism. However, if both papers are to be turned in on, professors will be able to see the texts are overlapping.

Will I get penalized for plagiarism if I copy another student's work?

Yes, the chances are high and not worth risking! This is the exact definition of plagiarism. You never want to take someone's ideas and words and pass them off as your own. This is also considered cheating, which is not acceptable.

If I do get caught for plagiarism, what will happen to me?

Don't risk it. The consequences will differ, but whatever they are, they won't be fun! While plagiarism is not an actual crime by law, it is not the right thing to do. You could get expelled or be given an automatic failing grade for the class, which may then require you to retake the class for credit. Time is valuable, and if you want to do well, then it's better to complete all work with academic integrity.

If I cite an incorrect source or incorrectly all together but still have some sort of citation, is this still considered plagiarism?

It is not uncommon that students are simply confused on how to cite properly. Professors during the first year of college may be lenient and make note in student papers when grading so that you are more aware for next time. However, there are a few that are far less forgiving, which is why it's so important to familiarize yourself with all the different citation formats and what you need to do to stay on the safe side.

How much of a text do I need to change in order for me to get away with citing?

If you find yourself rewording someone else's paragraph in attempts to make it your own, you are much better off rereading the text, then closing it and rewording it yourself completely to avoid potential plagiarism. Also, don't forget to accurately cite the source! Technically, even if everything is reworded, you can still get in trouble if a professor finds that you are using someone else's ideas that aren't "common sense."

Additional Resources


    This website provides insightful information for students wishing to learn more about plagiarism and how to avoid getting in trouble for it. Learn how to cite your sources properly, paraphrase without stealing others' works, and using quotes in your papers the right way. If you need a refresher on how to properly create footnotes and bibliographies, this resource will provide that as well.


    Many professors require students to submit their work onto It is a convenient way for them to scan through to make sure their students are submitting original work. The way this website works is that it will give students and teachers a report with highlighted portions that are quoted or unoriginal, and thus may be subject to plagiarism. This discourages students from even attempting to copy someone else's work.


    Are you a teacher, student, or publisher wondering whether something has been plagiarized? This tracker will read content in a variety of languages and answer your question.

  • WriteCheck

    Similar to TurnItIn, this resources helps to track plagiarism, and on top of that, is a great grammar checker too. Run your paper through WriteCheck before turning it in to make sure that you are good to go.

  • Purdue OWL

    Many high school and college students rely on this resource because it has plenty of guides and information about proper citation. It covers a variety of citation formats including the popular MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.

  • Citation Machine

    This is a great tool to make sure that all your sources are properly cited. It supports MLA, APA, Chicago, and Turabian citation styles.

  • EasyBib

    EasyBib provides numerous tools and resources on the different citation styles, information on note taking, and advice for students on how to be an effective researcher.

  • Mendeley

    Avoid procrastination on citations because it can be easy to look back and forget what needs to be cited and what doesn't. This tool will help you cite as you write, minimizing the chances of you getting caught for plagiarism.

  • EndNote

    Use this resource to efficiently search databases, build your citation list, and share scholarly research.

Let the Creativity Flow

Plagiarism is a common problem on college campuses today. Whether it's intentional or not, it is a serious academic offense. It not only gets you in trouble and prevents you from actively learning, it also hinders you from thinking outside of the box and being creative with your thoughts and writing. So don't be a copycat -- be original and create something that has not been created before!