Avoiding Plagiarism: Definitions and Prevention

For Faculty interested in plagiarism resources, please see our Plagiarism: Prevention and Detection online guide designed for instructors.


Simply put, plagiarism is the use of someone's words or ideas as your own. When writing a research paper or making an oral presentation, you must credit and cite all the sources you used whether from a book, a printed article or an electronic resource found on the web.

Plagiarism takes many different forms, such as:

  • Turning in someone else's work (from a book, an article or a resource found on the web) as one's own without crediting the author.
  • Turning in material produced in collaboration with others as one's own work without crediting the collaborators.
  • Cutting and pasting information from the web and turning it in as your own.
  • Downloading or buying papers or other information from the web and turning it in as your own.
  • Improper paraphrasing -- in other words, using information from a source by changing the words around without crediting the author.

To quote a source is to match the material word for word (enclosed in quotation marks, of course). You must credit the original author when using a quotation.

To paraphrase is to take information from source material and put it into your own words. Even when you use your own words to paraphrase information, you must still credit the original source.

To summarize is to take the main idea(s) from source material and put them into your own words. Just like paraphrasing, you must still credit the original source of these summarized ideas.

When you borrow someone else's ideas for a research paper you must cite (in other words, document) your sources.

Unintended plagiarism happens ...

You may not intend to plagiarize but might simply be unaware or misinformed.

  • Some students are unfamiliar with official citation styles such as MLA, APA, etc.
  • It takes time to develop appropriate research and writing skills.

You may also be confused about issues surrounding copyright and plagiarism.

  • Become familiar with what's an appropriate paraphrase vs. what constitutes plagiarism.
  • If you believe that most online information is non-copyrighted public knowledge ... you're incorrect. Most text and images that you find on the web are copyrighted, so be sure to credit the original web resource.
  • Students feel pressure to do well in school ... but plagiarizing someone else's work is not the answer!


Educate yourself!

The informed consumer of information is less likely to plagiarize or to be victimized by acts of plagiarism.

  • Be able to define plagiarism, and be able to recognize its many forms.
  • Encourage your professors to discuss plagiarism as an ethical, moral and legal issue. Remember that it's an issue of trust between a student and a faculty member as well as among your fellow student peers.
  • Become familiar with some of the most common, official citation styles such as MLA or APA. (See Ramsey Library's guide to Citing Sources for a good start.)
  • Know the consequences of plagiaristic acts.  At UNCA, academic dishonesty may result in a failing grade on an assignment or test, or a failing grade in the course. In some cases students may be referred for expulsion or other serious University sanctions.

The age of "cut and paste" online information makes it easier to cyber-plagiarize than ever before.  However, the same online resources that make it simpler to plagiarize also make it easier for instructors and administrators to detect instances of academic dishonesty.

There are many fine educational tutorials, guides and handouts available on the web to help inform and arm you against plagiarism.

General Resources

Comprehensive site with links to articles about plagiarism, intellectual freedom and copyright created by Sharon Stoerger (in conjunction with UIUC). Provides links to guidelines and detection tools. Truly one-stop plagiarism shopping.

Electronic Plagiarism Seminar
Another fine site notable for its frequently updated plagiarism "In the News" section.  Includes a handy list of common term definitions (copyright, common knowledge, intellectual property) as well as prevention and detection strategies.  Created and maintained by Librarian Gretchen Pearson of LeMoyne College.

Plagiarism Detection and Prevention
For those who prefer a more concise, easily navigable site, Baylor University Libraries' page lists and links to excellent resources.


What is Plagiarism?
Indiana University's basic tutorial that educates students about what does (and doesn’t) constitute plagiarism, by Ted Frick.

Plagiarism Tutorial
North Carolina State University's version.

Guides and Handouts

Research Resources
Site of the TurnItIn detection service that provides good definitions, guidelines and printable handouts.

University of Alberta Guide to Plagiarism
Well structured site with handouts and online resources for both students and faculty.

Further Reading:

Citing Sources - Useful links and tips on how to document/cite both print and electronic resource information.

Evaluating Web Information - Checklist and teaching tool for critically analyzing web sites and online information.

Copyright Resources - Useful links and tips on everything you need to know about copyright and intellectual property at UNCA.


Page updated 8/13/2013. 
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