Plagiarism | Definition & Plagiarism Checker

Plagiarism means using someone else’s work without giving them proper credit. In academic writing, plagiarizing involves using words, ideas, or information from a source without citing it correctly.

Universities detect plagiarism using specialized software that automatically compares submissions to a database of other texts.

If you’re worried about accidental plagiarism, you can try Scribbr’s free plagiarism checker. It’s powered by Turnitin, the same software used by many universities.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined as stealing someone else’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own. In the context of academic writing, this means quoting someone’s words without quotation marks, or paraphrasing an idea without including a proper citation.

Plagiarism is also a relevant concern in other contexts outside of academia. You might be aware of high-profile examples of plagiarism in the worlds of art, politics, and music. It’s not only text that can be plagiarized, but also creative works like music and images.

Why is plagiarism bad?

Plagiarism is wrong because it doesn’t give credit where credit is due—to the original creator of the work.

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, the work you submit should be 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.

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How is plagiarism detected?

Most academic institutions use some sort of plagiarism checker tool to make sure submitted assignments are original. If your text is too similar to existing text found by the checker, you may be accused of plagiarism.

If you’re worried about accidental plagiarism, consider running your content through a commercial plagiarism checker prior to submission. You upload your document and the checker scans it, checking for any similarities to published sources within its database.

There are many plagiarism checker tools on the market, and they vary in service provision and quality. The biggest difference is between free and paid services:

  • Most free checkers will only detect directly copy-pasted content. If plagiarized content has been even slightly tweaked, these checkers likely won’t detect it. See our list of the best free plagiarism checkers.
  • Paid checkers have access to larger databases. They’re often able to detect similarities in paraphrased content as well. Some paid checkers are subscription models, but there are also pay-per-use options. See our list of best plagiarism checkers.

Types of plagiarism

In academic writing, there are various types of plagiarism you might encounter:

  • Global plagiarism means plagiarizing an entire text. This includes purchasing an essay or turning in an assignment completed by someone else.
  • Verbatim plagiarism means directly copying someone’s words, without using quotation marks or citing the source.
  • Paraphrasing plagiarism means rephrasing someone else’s ideas and presenting them as if they were your own original thoughts.
  • Patchwork plagiarism means copying phrases, passages, and ideas from different sources and compiling them into a new text.
  • Self-plagiarism means recycling previous work that you’ve already submitted or published.

Although most plagiarism relates to text, it’s also possible to plagiarize things like images, data, and music. Any time you’re using something someone else created, you must give credit to the source.

Other than global plagiarism, all these types can occur accidentally as well as deliberately, through a lack of familiarity with how to incorporate and cite sources properly. But even accidental plagiarism can still have serious consequences.

Consequences of plagiarism

Depending on the context, the consequences of plagiarism range from failing an assignment to serious legal trouble.

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.

Avoiding plagiarism: Quote, paraphrase, cite

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.

When you want to use an idea or information from a source, but the original phrasing isn’t important, paraphrase it. Make sure that you’ve understood the original text and phrased it in your own way (not just swapped out a couple of words for synonyms).

When you want to include an exact phrase, sentence, or passage from a source, quote it. That means placing quotation marks around any text copied directly from the source. Introduce each quote in your own words, and avoid using standalone quotations as full sentences.

Some information is considered common knowledge and doesn’t need to be cited. Common knowledge is information that is widely known and easily verified. For example, you wouldn’t need a citation to prove that the Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

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.

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Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

What happens if you plagiarize?

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 you’ve done it before.

As an academic or professional, plagiarizing seriously damages your reputation. You might also lose your research funding or your job, and you could even face legal consequences for copyright infringement.

Is paraphrasing considered plagiarism?

Paraphrasing without crediting the original author is a form of plagiarism, because you’re presenting someone else’s ideas as if they were your own.

However, paraphrasing is not plagiarism if you correctly cite the source. This means including an in-text citation and a full reference, formatted according to your required citation style.

As well as citing, make sure that any paraphrased text is completely rewritten in your own words.

Can plagiarism be accidental?

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.

Scribbr’s Plagiarism Checker takes less than 10 minutes and can help you turn in your paper with confidence.

How is plagiarism detected?

Plagiarism can be detected by your professor or readers if the tone, formatting, or style of your text is different in different parts of your paper, or if they’re familiar with the plagiarized source.

Many universities also use plagiarism detection software like Turnitin’s, which compares your text to a large database of other sources, flagging any similarities that come up.

It can be easier than you think to commit plagiarism by accident. Consider using a plagiarism checker prior to submitting your paper to ensure you haven’t missed any citations.

Are plagiarism checkers accurate?

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.

Plagiarism checkers work by using advanced database software to scan for matches between your text and existing texts. Their accuracy is determined by two factors: the algorithm (which recognizes the plagiarism) and the size of the database (with which your document is compared).

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