The Definition of Plagiarize

: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source     

                                           from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Plagiarism is a serious intellectual offense. However, if you are aware of what constitutes plagiarism, and strive to avoid it, there is nothing to be worried about.

Here are four common types of plagiarism:

Direct Plagiarism

Direct plagiarism occurs when a student copies the work of another author verbatim without citing the source and without using quotation marks. Think “Cut-and-Paste”.

from Bowdoin College: An Example of Direct Plagiarism

Self Plagiarism

Self-plagiarism occurs when a student “Recycles” material from another one of his or her own papers without citing that paper as a source.

Mosaic Plagiarism

Mosaic plagiarism occurs when a student “Cherry-picks” words, phrases or more general concepts from another source, then finds synonyms or changes the wording slightly, without acknowledging the source.

from Bowdoin College: An Example of Mosaic Plagiarism

Accidental Plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism occurs when a student forgets or neglects to properly cite his sources. Not knowing what constitutes plagiarism, making errors in attribution, or simply forgetting still results in an offense.

Ask Yourself:

  1. Did I know this information without having to look it up? 
  2. Are there data or images I did not produce? 
  3. Is this an idea that is not my own? 

When in doubt, cite it

General Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

Read the Source in its Entirety 

  • It’s easy to take something out of context if you only read a portion of it! If you read the entire source, you should have a better understanding of the author’s meaning.
Take Detailed Notes as you Read
  • Anytime you note something word-for-word, immediately place it in quotation marks. Also note what page or section you found it on.
  • On each page, make sure you note the original source and the date you accessed the source. This will make citation much easier, especially if you are working with multiple sources or doing research over a long stretch of time.
  • Try not to mix your own thoughts and commentary with excerpts from your source. Keep them on separate pages, draw two columns on your page, or switch your pen color.
  • If you find it difficult to take notes with electronic sources – or if you find yourself drawn to the copy-paste method – print out your sources and deal with them in print form.
Consult with the Experts
  • If you need a second opinion, ask!  Ask a librarian, the Writing Center, or your professor. 
You Should Cite When
  • Referring to a source and stating someone else’s opinions, thoughts, ideas, or research
  • Using an image or media file that you did not create

When in doubt, cite it


When Referring to a Source, you have Three Options

Handwritten text that starts with a quotation mark and ends with a parenthetical citation.

  1. Directly Quoting 
  2. Summarizing 
  3. Paraphrase 

“Which option you should choose depends on how much of a source you are using, how you are using it, and what kind of paper you are writing, since different fields use sources in different ways.” Grounds for Argument. When to Quote, Paraphrase, or Summarize a Source. Used under CC BY NC SA

Image:  Random quote by Gabriel Jones. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


You Do Not Need to Cite
  • Your thoughts and your interpretations
  • Common knowledge​
What is a Direct Quotation? 

“Must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.”  Purdue University Online Writing Lab. (2012). Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

Use It
  • If summarizing or paraphrasing cannot capture the essence or meaning of the text 
  • To retain a specific or unique phrasing used by the source’s author
  • If you are analyzing the text itself (often in English or language classes)
Be Advised

Most of the time when you cite a source, you want to summarize or paraphrase. Direct quotations should be used sparingly when the situation meets the criteria above. When you do use direct quotations:

  • Do not take the quote out of context. The author’s meaning should not change.
  • Be sure to integrate multiple sources within your text. You don’t want to have a paper or a passage that seems to have come only from one source, with little original text from you.
  • Use transitions to make sure your quote adds to your paper without interrupting its flow.
How to Cite a Direct Quotation
  • Place quotation marks around the entire word-for-word passage, whether it’s a phrase or a sentence.
  • Attribute with an in-text citation; most citation styles request that you provide a page or paragraph number when directly citing.  
  • If your quotation is longer, check with your citation style guide to see if additional formatting is necessary (block quotations, for example).  
Additional Resources
What is a Summary? 

“Involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s)…. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.”  Purdue University Online Writing Lab. (2012). Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

“Similar to paraphrasing, summarizing involves using your own words and writing style to express another author’s ideas. Unlike the paraphrase, which presents important details, the summary presents only the most important ideas of the passage.” University of Houston-Victoria Student Success Center (n.d.). Decide when to Quote, Paraphrase & Summarize.

Use it
  • To provide necessary background information for your audience
  • When broad, concise information will suffice 
How to Cite a Summary 
  • Attribute with an in-text citation; some citation styles request that you provide a page or paragragh number whenever available.
  • You should not be using any word-for-word quotations or language unique to the source, so you do NOT need quotation marks around your summary.
Additional Resources
What is a Paraphrase?   

“A paraphrase is a detailed restatement in your own words of a written or sometimes spoken source material. Apart from the changes in organization, wording, and sentence structure, the paraphrase should be nearly identical in meaning to the original passage. It should also be near the same length as the original passage and present the details of the original.” University of Houston-Victoria Student Success Center (n.d.). Decide when to Quote, Paraphrase & Summarize.

Paraphrasing is “your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form.” Purdue University Online Writing Lab. (2012). Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

When paraphrasing, you must change both the sentence structure and the language of the original text

Use it
  • “When the wording is less important than the meaning of the source” University of Houston-Victoria Student Success Center (n.d.). Decide when to Quote, Paraphrase & Summarize.
  • If a summary would not provide enough specific details
How to Cite Paraphrasing
  • Attribute with an in-text citation; some citation styles request that you provide a page or paragraph number whenever available.
  • When paraphrasing, you must change both the sentence structure and language of the original text.  Therefore, since you will be changing the text, you do NOT need quotation marks around your paraphrase.
Additional Resources

Purdue OWL: Paraphrasing

Grounds for Argument: How to Paraphrase Fairly

Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting

What is Common Knowledge?

It doesn’t necessarily mean that most people would know it offhand. And sometimes it’s a judgment call because what seems like common knowledge to one person isn’t to another. Here are good rules of thumb:

  • If you can find the same information in multiple places, stated in relatively the same way, it’s common knowledge (Generally, it is said that you should find the information three to five sources)
  • If most people are aware of this fact, or if it’s general reference, it’s common knowledge

CAUTION:  Opinions and unique terminology/phrasing do not qualify as common knowledge.

When in doubt, cite