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Plagiarism (and how to avoid it): What is plagiarism?

Definition of plagiarism, examples, and guidance on ethical use of sources.

Plagiarism Videos

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Plagiarism: Explanation and Examples

Plagiarism Explained

Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as your own. More specifically, it involves using someone else’s work – their words, thoughts, ideas, data, or designs – in the context of your own research and failing to give credit to your source. When you conduct academic research, you rely on the use of outside sources to answer your research questions and to support your own arguments. You build on the work of others in order to create new knowledge. When you do this, it is important to acknowledge the contributions of those whose work you have incorporated into your own – to give credit where it is due.

Why People Plagiarize

People plagiarize for many reasons:

  • procrastination or poor time management: waiting too long to begin, then not having enough time to do it right
  • lack of confidence or lack of knowledge about how to begin or follow through with an assignment.
  • confusion about when and how to cite sources
  • mistaken belief that it's not plagiarism if it's been paraphrased
  • temptation of readily available material on the Web

Intentional Plagiarism vs. Unintentional Plagiarism

Plagiarism can be intentional or unintentional. Sometimes people knowingly use others’ intellectual property without acknowledging their work. But plagiarism is not always cut and dried, and inexperience or ignorance can lead to mistakes. 

Intentional Plagiarism

Intentional plagiarism is knowingly presenting someone else’s work as your own, or stealing that person’s intellectual property, and includes the following examples:

  • buying a research paper online and submitting it as your own work
  • submitting a copy of a friend or relative’s research paper as your own work
  • self-plagiarism - recycling a prior research paper and submitting it as your own recent work
  • cyber-plagiarism - copying and pasting from an online source into your paper without citing

Unintentional Plagiarism

Unintentional plagiarism is failing to give proper credit to someone else’s work for any of these reasons:

  • negligence or lack of attention (take your time and get the details right)
  • not realizing when a citation is needed (common knowledge information doesn't have to be cited, but when in doubt it's always best to provide a citation)
  • providing incorrect information within a citation (incorrect page number or other location information, omitting an author's name, failure to include a URL if it's required)
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