student writing

Ever read something and thought, “That’s brilliant! I’ll use that in my paper!” No harm, no foul, right? Wrong. Copy someone else’s work, and you’ve broken a major rule in writing—and it could earn you an F on that paper (or worse, expulsion from school).

What exactly is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else’s words or ideas without citing your source. It can also mean using someone else’s words or ideas as if they were your own. Even if you didn’t intend to plagiarize, it’s still a big deal and could have major consequences. (Check with your school on the rules about plagiarism.)

Is this plagiarism?

It’s probably plagiarism if:

  • You took, paid for, or copied someone else’s paper/work.
  • You paid someone to write your paper for you
  • You used sections of someone else’s work. without quoting or citing it as a reference (this includes information from the internet).

It isn’t always so cut-and-dry. Plagiarism can also include building on someone else’s ideas, or not paraphrasing appropriately—in other words, using too many words or phrases that are close to those in the original without citing the source.

How to avoid being a plagiarist

  • Cite your sources.
  • Learn how to paraphrase: Say in your own words what someone else has said. Changing a few words in the sentence does not make it your own. And even if you have paraphrased, you must still cite the source.
  • If your school offers it, use the writing center. The trained staff can help you cite your sources correctly.
  • Use reliable sources online for help with citing papers (try the Purdue Online Writing Lab), as well as checking your paper for plagiarism.