Global plagiarism means plagiarizing an entire text. This includes purchasing an essay or turning in an assignment completed by someone else.
Patchwork or mosaic plagiarism means copying phrases, passages, and ideas from different sources and compiling them into a new text.
Incremental plagiarism means inserting a small amount of plagiarized content in a mostly original text.
Self-plagiarism means recycling your own previous work that you’ve already submitted or published.
Although text is the most common source of plagiarism, it’s also possible to plagiarize things like images, data, music, and art. Any time you’re using something someone else created, you must give credit to the source.
Deliberate vs. accidental plagiarism
You’ve probably heard stories about deliberate plagiarism: from a classmate turning in a paper they didn’t write to a corporation using an online creator’s design without permission.
However, plagiarism often occurs by accident. In academic writing, it’s easier than you may think to commit accidental plagiarism. Some common examples include:
Paraphrasing too closely to the original text (e.g. just switching out a few synonyms)
Mentioning an idea that you read somewhere without citing it
Including the wrong information in a citation
Not including a complete reference list at the end of your paper
Even if done by accident, it’s still considered plagiarism, and can have serious consequences.
Why is plagiarism wrong?
Imitation is not, in fact, the greatest form of flattery. Plagiarism is wrong because it doesn’t give credit where credit is due—to the person or entity that originally created the work.
For students and academics
Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty. Whether you’re a student submitting a paper for a class or a researcher submitting to a journal, it’s expected that the work you submit is your own. Getting credit for work you haven’t done impacts your learning and misleads your readers.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use others’ work. Drawing on existing ideas and research is a key part of academic writing. But it’s important to clearly distinguish your own words and ideas from those of your sources.
This not only gives proper credit to the works you referenced, but also helps your readers track where your ideas came from and verify the evidence for themselves.
In the arts and creative industries
For those making visual art, music, or other types of creative work, plagiarism is often seen as a type of theft. Publishing or selling something that you didn’t create means depriving the original creator of income and recognition for their work.
All artists and creators have inspirations, and much of the world’s rich cultural legacy has been built from these inspirations. If you find that you’ve been really inspired by a particular body of work, give appropriate credit to the original creator.
If you’re a student submitting work that you don’t intend to publish, there likely will not be legal ramifications for plagiarism. However, it can have serious consequences for your education, from a failing grade to academic probation or expulsion.
If you are seeking to publish your work, plagiarism can damage your reputation and land you in legal hot water. Not giving the original artist or creator credit could lead to loss of gainful income or other financial ramifications for them. Stealing intellectual property is against the law if it’s copyrighted, and often has legal implications even if it isn’t.
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Avoid plagiarism by quoting, paraphrasing, and citing
The most surefire way to avoid plagiarism is to always cite your sources. But you also need to make sure to properly integrate them into your text by either quoting or paraphrasing.
Let’s say you’re writing a research paper on human evolution and the origins of play. You’ve found a great article in Smithsonian Magazine, “Five Ways Humans Evolved to Be Athletes,” and you want to cite evidence from a specific paragraph of the article. How you can use this source without accidentally plagiarizing?
Simply changing a few words or using a synonym tool is not correct paraphrasing. In fact, you may unintentionally change the meaning of the source. To show you’ve fully understood the material, explain the author’s key point entirely in your own words, and make sure to cite the source.
Avoiding plagiarism when quoting
When you want to include an exact phrase, sentence or passage from a source, use a quotation.
That means you need to place quotation marks around any text that is copied directly from the source. Be sure to introduce each quote in your own words, and avoid using standalone quotations as full sentences.
Do I need to cite every piece of information?
Some information is considered common knowledge, which means it doesn’t need to be cited. Common knowledge is information that you didn’t learn from a particular source, but that is widely known and easily verified.
For example, if you state that Washington, D.C. is the capital city of the United States, or that the Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, no citation is required.
However, if you’re not sure whether something is common knowledge, it’s usually safest to cite the source.
Real-life examples of plagiarism
There are many relevant examples of plagiarism in different industries, from pop culture to academia and public speaking.
Your professor or audience may be able to detect plagiarism if the formatting, style, or tone of your content changes abruptly or seems inconsistent. If your content looks or sounds familiar, a simple Google search may be all it takes.
Most academic institutions utilize some sort of plagiarism checker tool to make sure submitted content is original. If your content is too similar to content found by the checker, you may be suspected of plagiarism.
If you’re worried about accidental plagiarism, consider running your content through a plagiarism checker yourself prior to submission.
How plagiarism checkers work
Online plagiarism checkers work in a similar way to the ones that universities use. You upload your document and the checker scans it, checking for any similarities to websites, journals, or other published sources within their database.
After the scan is complete, the checker shows you similarities it found between your text and the content in its database, often in the form of a percentage. You can then scroll through, adding quotations or citations if needed.
The accuracy of the results depend on the size of the database and the technology’s capabilities.
Choosing an online plagiarism checker
There are many plagiarism checker tools on the market, and they vary in service provision and quality. The biggest differentiating factor between plagiarism checkers is the free, “freemium”, and paid versions.
Most free checkers will only detect directly copied-and-pasted content. If plagiarized content has even been slightly tweaked, these checkers will likely not detect it.
“Freemium” checkers appear to be free at first glance, but have a lot of add-ons and features that are paid, making it unlikely that you will get everything you need for free.
Paid checkers have access to larger databases, and often have the ability to detect similarities in paraphrased content as well. Some paid checkers are subscription models, but there are also pay-per-use options that give you more flexibility.
Trustworthiness of plagiarism checkers
Plagiarism checkers also vary in terms of privacy and confidentiality. When choosing a plagiarism checker, make sure that you read the fine print.
Free lecture slides
Are you a teacher or professor who would like to educate your students about plagiarism? You can download our free lecture slides, available for Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint.
The consequences of plagiarism vary depending on the type of plagiarism and the context in which it occurs. For example, submitting a whole paper by someone else will have the most severe consequences, while accidental citation errors are considered less serious.
If you’re a student, then you might fail the course, be suspended or expelled, or be obligated to attend a workshop on plagiarism. It depends on whether it’s your first offense or whether you’ve done it before.
As an academic or professional, plagiarizing seriously damages your reputation. You might also lose your research funding and/or your job, and you could even face legal consequences for copyright infringement.
Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common examples of plagiarism. Perhaps you forgot to cite a source, or paraphrased something a bit too closely. Maybe you can’t remember where you got an idea from, and aren’t totally sure if it’s original or not.
These all count as plagiarism, even though you didn’t do it on purpose. When in doubt, make sure you’re citing your sources. Also consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission, which work by using advanced database software to scan for matches between your text and existing texts.
The accuracy depends on the plagiarism checker you use. Per our in-depth research, Scribbr is the most accurate plagiarism checker. Many free plagiarism checkers fail to detect all plagiarism or falsely flag text as plagiarism.
The accuracy is determined by two factors: the algorithm (which recognizes the plagiarism) and the size of the database (with which your document is compared). Plagiarism checkers work by using advanced database software to scan for matches between your text and existing texts.
Size of the database
Many free plagiarism checkers only check your paper against websites – not against books, journals or papers previously submitted by other students. Therefore, these plagiarism checkers are not very accurate, as they miss a lot of plagiarism.
Most plagiarism checkers are only able to detect “direct plagiarism”, or instances where the sentences are exactly the same as in the original source. However, a good plagiarism checker is also able to detect “patchwork plagiarism” (sentences where some words are changed or synonyms are used).
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