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Plagiarism tutorial

Plagiarism: a definition

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is taking someone else's ideas or words and passing them off as your own—even accidentally.

Plagiarism is a form of stealing. Students can plagiarize by...

  • using someone else's text, word-for-word without quotation marks
  • using someone else's words or ideas without documentation or acknowledgement
  • submitting a paper with your name on it that you did not write
  • reusing work that you submitted for a different course

Even if you plagiarize by accident, you can face serious consequences. The College's academic honesty policy lays out disciplinary action for students who plagiarize. Depending on how serious the case is, you can fail your assignment, fail your course, and possibly even be dismissed from college for plagiarizing.


Image: "Two's a pair in Amboseli, Kenya," Neil and Zulma Scott on Unsplash

But my professor said I must use evidence from outside sources.

College assignments frequently require you to use outside sources in your writing, presentations, and other projects.

Outside sources can include:

  • textbooks
  • library books
  • magazines
  • academic journals
  • encyclopedias
  • websites
  • more

The key to avoiding plagiarism is to acknowledge the authors of these outside sources with a form of documentation called citation.

Proper citation can turn a case of plagiarism into a case of acceptable and appropriate use. You'll learn more about citation later in this tutorial.

So what's the difference between plagiarism and acceptable use of outside sources?


Acceptable use

Using others’ words without quotation marks. Using quotation marks to clearly mark someone else’s words.
Quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing without citation or attribution. Clearly noting the source of each idea in your paper within the text itself (parenthetical citations or notes) and in a citation list (works cited or references page). 
Copying, purchasing, or stealing someone else’s paper and submitting it with your name on it. Coming to your own conclusions based on a range of ideas, and clearly noting which parts of your paper are your ideas vs. others’
Submitting a paper for one course that you previously submitted for a different course (or the same course if you're retaking it). Talking with your professor ahead of time about whether incorporating your previous work is appropriate, and then clearly noting where you have done so.

The consequences of plagiarism

Plagiarism isn't just a problem for college students. 

Well known scholars, journalists, and others have faced serious consequences for plagiarism.

In 2021 Robert Caslen resigned from his position as president of University of South Carolina after it was discovered that he plagiarized part of his commencement speech. 

According to Caslen, the plagiarism was accidental. Also the original author said he was flattered and did not require an apology

Even though the original author was not upset, and the plagiarism was accidental, the controversy led to Caslen's resignation from a powerful, high-ranking position.

Copying without fully crediting the original creator is not acceptable, and the consequences can be heavy.