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Understanding Plagiarism

Learn what plagiarism is and how it happens; learn best practices for avoiding plagiarism

Important definitions

Plagiarism: the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language, creative works, and/or thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work, as by not crediting the author (Adapted from:

Paraphrase: a restatement of a text or passage giving the meaning in another form, as for clearness; rewording. (Source:

Intellectual property: Law - property that results from original creative thought, as patents, copyright material, and trademarks. (Source:

Understanding Plagiarism: Information Literacy Guide

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is making use of other people's ideas, words, creative works and expressions without giving credit or otherwise listing the source of the information. Plagiarism is stealing. Plagiarism is also misrepresentation and includes handing in someone else's work, ideas, or answers as your own. Regardless of whether it happens inadvertently through hasty research or on purpose through unethical choices, it is plagiarism just the same. This guide helps inform you about plagiarism, and gives some best practice ideas to help avoid plagiarism.

Consequences of plagiarism

Those of us in academic settings are aware that plagiarism has its consequences. Students who plagiarize run the risk of flunking assignments or entire courses, and even possibly expulsion from the university. At ISU, cases of student plagiarism fall into the category of Academic Misconduct and are subject to ISU's Code of Student Disciplinary Regulations. Cases of suspected academic misconduct are forwarded to the Dean of Students and the Judicial Affairs offices, where appropriate sanctions are determined on a case-by-case basis. Faculty, authors, and researchers who plagiarize risk losing their jobs and their professional standing. The national news and the Chronicle of Higher Education contain stories of what has happened to unethical faculty and researchers nationwide. Regardless of rank, being found guilty of plagiarism comes with serious consequences.

Best practices for avoiding plagiarism

There are many ways to avoid plagiarism, including developing good research habits, good time management, and taking responsibility for your own learning. Listed below are some specific tips:

  • Don't procrastinate with your research and assignments. Good research takes time. Procrastinating makes it likely you'll run out of time or be unduly pressured to finish. Plan your research well in advance, and seek help when needed from your professor, from librarians, the Academic Success Center staff, and other campus support staff.
  • Commit to doing your own work. If you aren't sure about how to complete an assignment, how to get started, or what your teacher's expectations are, talk with your professor. This includes considerations when approaching group work. Make sure you clearly understand when your professor says it's okay to work with others on assignments and submit group work on assignments, versus when assignments and papers need to be done individually. 
  • Take careful notes throughout your research process and as you begin drafting your paper. One good practice is to clearly label within your notes the ideas that are your own (e.g. writing "ME" in parentheses) and ideas and words from others (e.g. using a citation such as "Smith, 2005, p. 14" or something to indicate author, source, source date, and page number if there are pages). You'll need this information for your reference list or citations anyway, so you'll benefit from good organization from the beginning.
  • Cite your sources. Always cite other people's work, words, ideas and phrases that you use directly or indirectly in your paper. Regardless of whether you found the information in a book, article, or website, and whether it's text, a graphic, an illustration, chart or table, you need to cite it. When you use words or phrases from other sources, these need to be in quotes. Current style manuals, available at the Parks Library Main Desk, will help you use a consistent means of citation. They may also give further advice on avoiding plagiarism.
  • Understand good paraphrasing. Simply using synonyms or scrambling an author's words and phrases and then using these "rewrites" uncredited in your work is plagiarism, plain and simple. Good paraphrasing requires that you understand the original source, that you use your own words to summarize a point or concept, and that you put quotation marks around any unique words or phrases you use from the original source. Good paraphrasing also requires that you cite the original source -- this gives credit to the idea, even if it is in your words. 

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