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Plagiarism Overview 

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Plagiarism is using someone else’s ideas or words without giving them proper credit. Plagiarism can range from unintentional (forgetting to include a source in a bibliography) to intentional (buying a paper online, using another writer’s ideas as your own to make your work sound smarter). Beginning writers and expert writers alike can all plagiarize. Understand that plagiarism is a serious charge in academia, but also in professional settings

If you are...

  • a student — consequences can include failing grades on assignments or classes, academic probation, and even expulsion.
  • a researcher — plagiarism can cause a loss of credibility, legal consequences, and other professional consequences.
  • an employee in a corporate or similar setting — you can receive a reprimand or lose your job.

It is important to recognize that standards and conventions for citing sources vary from the classroom to scholarly publishing to the professional sphere, sometimes very widely, but in all situations we must attribute other people’s words and ideas to their appropriate source.

Please note: This resource, which does not reflect any official university policy, is designed to help you develop strategies for knowing how to avoid accidental plagiarism. For instructors seeking a key statement on definitions and avoidance on plagiarism, see Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices. 

In addition, there is a one page handout available that provides an overview of plagiarism with answers to common questions asked about how to avoid it.


Intellectual Challenges in American Academic Writing

There are some intellectual challenges that all students are faced with when writing. Sometimes these challenges can almost seem like contradictions, particularly when addressing them within a single paper.  

For example, American teachers often instruct students to: 

  • Develop a topic based on what has already been said and written BUT write something new and original. 
  • Rely on experts’ and authorities’ opinions BUT build upon and/or disagree with those opinions.
  • Give credit to previous researchers BUT make your own significant contribution. 
  • Improve your English to fit into a discourse community by building upon what you hear and read BUT use your own words and your own voices. 

This may sound confusing, however, something simple to keep in mind when it comes to research is: You are not reinventing the wheel, you are simply contributing in a significant way. For beginners, this can be a challenge, but once you start to see that there is a pattern that is unique to you, you will find that plagiarism is not needed. Remember — your professor or your supervisor want your ideas to build on what is already established or familiar and NOT to simply repurpose someone else’s ideas and calling it your own.  

Why is understanding this so important? Plagiarism is not a victimless crime. Someone, including yourself, will get hurt.