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

Learn to cite sources of information clearly to avoid plagiarizing.

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Plagiarism: A video explanation

The definition of plagiarism

Definition: plagiarism, noun. the act of using another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person.

Origin: "If schools wish to impress upon their students how serious an offense plagiarism is, they might start with an explanation of the word’s history. Plagiarize (and plagiarism) comes from the Latin plagiarius, "kidnapper."

This word, derived from the Latin plaga (“a net used by hunters to catch game”), extended its meaning in Latin to include a person who stole the words, rather than the children, of another. When plagiarius first entered English in the form plagiary, it kept its original reference to kidnapping, a sense that is now quite obsolete."

Definition of plagiarism, “Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Read about some famous plagiarism cases. 

Almost plagiarism and 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 are pieced together. Read more in this Poynter Institute article, "'Patchwriting' is more common than plagiarism, just as dishonest."

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. Use index cards or 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.

Synonymizing: changing original writing by using synonyms

It is still plagiarism to copy a passage and change adjectives and verbs using synonyms. This type of plagiarism is called "synonymizing" or "text laundering." Of course, there is software available to "synonymize" a paper - for a fee. Here's an example Jonathan Bailey used on his website Plagiarism Today (November 2005):

Original quote:  "To be, or not to be. That is the question." Hamlet, William Shakespeare. ca. 1600.

Synonymized quote: “To exist, or not to exist, that is the query." Bailey, Jonathan. “Synonymized Plagiarism: A New Threat.” Plagiarism Today, 5 Dec. 2005,


Plagiarism checkers are prepared to catch synonymizing also. Read this webpage on to read the exhausting lengths some people will go to to avoid writing their original thoughts. Note that plagiarism checkers also read Quora posts giving students instructions on how to commit this type of plagiarism. 

Cañada College's Academic Integrity Policy

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

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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The plagiarism spectrum

From Ward Off Plagiarism: How to Paraphrase Writing

Paraphrase vs Plagiarism