What Is Plagiarism? | Definition & Examples

Plagiarism happens when one uses another person’s work without the appropriate acknowledgment. When it comes to academic writing, plagiarism can mean taking someone else’s ideas, information, or words without including a suitable in-text citation.

Quillbot’s Citation Generator can help you quickly and easily create citations for a variety of source types and style guides.

Examples of plagiarism Why is it wrong?
Copying portions of a text verbatim without including quotation marks Omitting the quotation marks implies that the words are your own rather than quoted material.
Providing the wrong information about a source Readers must be able to find the source material to be able to check what you claim.
Paraphrasing by changing only a few words of the source text or keeping the same sentence structure without including a citation This presents the ideas as if they were your own.
Submitting work you used for a previous assignment without including a citation Even if you reuse your own work, the reader must be informed that what you are presenting now comes from a previous text.
Having more quoted material than original ideas The text relies too heavily on other people’s ideas to be original.
Using a text someone else wrote (e.g., using a paper-writing service) This is a violation of academic integrity, prevents your own learning, and is unfair to other students.

Common questions about plagiarism

While buying essays is problematic for obvious reasons, it can be tricky to understand when quoting, paraphrasing, and citing sources raise issues related to plagiarism. There are a variety of common questions regarding what does and does not constitute plagiarism.

My papers include a lot of quotes and paraphrased material. Is this an issue?

If your work includes numerous citations, there are several strategies you can use to streamline, including:

  • Combining multiple citations within a single set of parentheses, with each source separated by a semicolon according to the most common citation style guides
  • Excluding citations when information constitutes common knowledge
  • Using shortened citations for the same source cited multiple times in a row
  • Using “ibid.” to cite the same source multiple times in a row (if permitted by your style guide)

I don’t want to risk accidental plagiarism. Can I avoid using sources?

Using sources is a key component of strong academic writing and is oftentimes essential. Academic writing involves putting your own ideas into conversation with the work of other researchers. You must compare and contrast your points with what others have found to expand knowledge and highlight the contributions you make.

However, plagiarism has serious repercussions, so you can use the following strategies to avoid accidental plagiarism:

  • Include quotation marks for directly quoted material
  • Alter the original text by using your own words and different sentence structures when paraphrasing
  • Include correctly formatted citations for all borrowed material
  • Use a plagiarism checker to scan your work for potential problems
  • Be responsible when using generative AI tools and follow the rules of your university

How many sources do I need to cite?

Unless your professor has required a certain number of sources to be used, there is no baseline number of citations required in academic writing.

The purpose of using other sources to support your work is to make your argument stronger, so you should include outside support only when it serves this broader goal. Using more or fewer citations is neither bad nor good in and of itself.

Some types of academic texts, such as literature reviews, will likely include more citations than others, such as results chapters.

If you are concerned about too many citations, review the information you’ve cited to ensure that it helps your argument. All cited materials should be related to the topic at hand.

That said, it is important to avoid quoting too much material. Relying too heavily on quotations can dilute the original arguments you are trying to make. For this reason, paraphrasing is preferable to quoting unless you are examining the language used in the source (e.g., to perform a close reading).

Is paraphrasing considered plagiarism?

Paraphrasing is a common, effective, and entirely acceptable means of presenting other researchers’ ideas for discussion in your own work. Paraphrasing involves rephrasing the original material in your own words and must always include a citation.

However, paraphrasing can become plagiarism if the following guidelines are not respected:

  • Borrowed material must be accompanied by a citation
  • The original phrasing must be adequately changed by altering the language and restructuring the sentence

Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

What happens if you plagiarize?

Plagiarism can result in a variety of negative consequences depending on the type of plagiarism and the context. Minor accidental citation errors are less serious than buying a paper written by someone else and submitting it as your own work.

If you are a student, the consequences of plagiarism could include failing your course, suspension, or even expulsion. If the plagiarism error is less serious, you may be required to attend a workshop on plagiarism.

Committing plagiarism as an academic or professional can cause serious harm to your reputation and the credibility of your work. Additionally, you could lose the funding for your research or be terminated from your job, as well as potentially facing legal consequences for violating intellectual property laws.

Are plagiarism checkers accurate?

Different plagiarism checkers have different degrees of efficacy. Not all plagiarism checkers are created equal, and they may rely on different software and databases to cross-check texts.

The accuracy of a plagiarism checker depends on the algorithm it uses to detect plagiarism and the size of the database it consults to compare your work with other materials.

Can plagiarism be accidental?

Accidental plagiarism is a common mistake that occurs when you forget to include a citation or do not alter the original material enough when paraphrasing. Sometimes you may not recall where an idea came from and so don’t include a citation even though it is needed.

To avoid committing accidental plagiarism, always include citations. You can also use a plagiarism checker to ensure that your text isn’t too close to other materials.

How is plagiarism detected?

Your professors or readers might notice plagiarism if the style, formatting, or tone of your text is inconsistent or if they recognize the original source.

Many universities also use plagiarism software to scan assignments and flag similarities with other works.

Using a plagiarism checker yourself before submitting can help you to avoid committing accidental plagiarism.

Is paraphrasing considered plagiarism?

When done correctly, paraphrasing is not plagiarism.

However, if you fail to include a citation or do not adequately alter the original text, this can constitute plagiarism.

For citations, you must include both an in-text citation as well as a complete reference entry according to the requirements of your style guide. Additionally, the words you use should be your own, meaning that the language and sentence structure of the original material must be different.

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