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Plagiarism: What it is and how to avoid it: Plagiarism: What it is

Plagiarism is presenting someone else's work as your own. Plagiarism is a serious academic transgression that may result in a failing grade or expulsion. Learn to cite sources of information clearly.

Plagiarism: A definition from Merriam Webster's Dictionary

From Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, a definition:

To Plagiarize: 

transitive verb: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source
intransitive verb: to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

Cañada College's Academic Integrity Policy and Student Conduct Code

This excerpt below is from Cañada College's Academic Integrity Policy and the Student Conduct Code.

Academic Integrity (Cheating and Plagiarism)

As members of the college community, students at Cañada are expected to demonstrate integrity in all academic endeavors.

Any act which gains or is intended to gain an unfair academic advantage or which compromises the integrity of the academic standards of the college may be considered an act of academic dishonesty. 

Cheating and Plagiarism are violations of the Academic Integrity Policy and the Student Conduct Code and will result in appropriate disciplinary action.

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Compare and contrast: You decide

Consequences of plagiarism for students - ripped from today's headlines!

"Administrators said that on final-exam questions, some students supplied identical answers, down to, in some cases, typographical errors, indicating that they had written them together or plagiarized them."

- Perez-Peña, Richard. “Students Disciplined in Harvard Scandal.” New York Times, 1 Feb. 2013.


From Harvard to high school, students have been caught cheating. The news articles below describe how they were caught and what the consequences were.

Plagiarism: A video explanation

Almost plagiarism and way more common: "Patchwriting"

More common than outright plagiarism, students "patch together" thoughts in a recognizable form of writing known as "patchwriting." Instead of synthesizing one's own thoughts and writing original sentences, pieces and phrases of others' work may be pieced together. Read more in this Poynter Institute article.

Whether students mean to plagiarize or not, the consequences of an author's words or phrasing appearing in your work can mean a failing grade on your paper, a failing grade in a class or expulsion from college. To avoid any of these, keep careful track of where you find your sources and quotes. Index cards, careful notes that include citation information, a Google doc - it doesn't matter how you keep words and ideas next to the author's name, the title of the work and page numbers.

  What is Plagiarism?

painting of pirate

Pirate was a Picturesque Fellow by Howard Pyle (from ARTstor)

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s words or ideas as your own.  If you don’t credit the author, you are committing a type of theft called plagiarism.

When you do research you incorporate outside sources – other people’s words and ideas – into your paper.  It is important to cite these sources, whether you quote, paraphrase, or summarize their ideas. 

It is plagiarism when you:

  1. Buy or use a term paper written by someone else.
  2. Cut and paste passages from the Web, a book, or an article and insert them into your paper without citing them. 
  3. Use the words or ideas of another person without citing them.
  4. Paraphrase a person’s words without citing them.

Most colleges have an Academic Integrity Policy.  Consequences for plagiarism can range from failing the paper or the class to suspension from the school.

Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism:  

  1. First, use your own ideas. Your paper and your ideas that should be the focus.
  2. Use the ideas of others to support or reinforce your own argument.
  3. When taking notes, include complete citation information for each item you use.
  4. Use quotation marks when directly stating another person's words.

Adapted from Western Michigan University Library's Citing Sources module.