Examples of Plagiarism & Tips for Avoiding It

Plagiarism means using someone else’s words or ideas without properly crediting the original author.

Some common examples of plagiarism include:

  • Paraphrasing a source too closely
  • Including a direct quote without quotation marks
  • Copying elements of different sources and pasting them into a new document
  • Leaving out an in-text citation
  • Submitting a full text that is not your own

The examples below illustrate common instances of accidental plagiarism, with solutions to help you submit your work with confidence.

Paraphrasing plagiarism

Paraphrasing means putting someone else’s ideas into your own words. In order to do so correctly, you must entirely rewrite the passage you are referencing without changing the meaning of the original text.

Every time you paraphrase, it’s important to cite the original source and avoid wording that is too similar to the original. Otherwise, you could be at risk of committing paraphrasing plagiarism.

Remember that paraphrasing doesn’t just mean switching out a few words for synonyms while retaining the original sentence structure. The author’s idea must be reformulated in a way that fits smoothly into your text.

Original text
“So much of modern-day life revolves around using opposable thumbs, from holding a hammer to build a home to ordering food delivery on our smartphones. But for our ancestors, the uses were much simpler. Strong and nimble thumbs meant that they could better create and wield tools, stones and bones for killing large animals for food” (Handwerk, 2021).
Example: Paraphrasing plagiarism
A lot of life today involves using opposable thumbs, from using a hammer to build a house to ordering something on our smartphones. But for our predecessors, the uses were much more simple. Powerful and dexterous thumbs meant that they could better make and use tools, stones and bones for killing large animals to eat.
Example: Correct paraphrasing
Opposable thumbs are such an ingrained part of humans’ day-to-day life that most do not pay them much notice. However, they could be a matter of life or death for our ancestors. Per Handwerk (2021), opposable thumbs allowed earlier humans to survive and thrive, enhancing their ability to create tools and weapons to kill large animals.

Verbatim plagiarism

Quoting means copying a brief passage from another text, enclosing it in quotation marks.

If you fail to include quotation marks or a citation, you’re committing verbatim plagiarism: copying someone’s exact words without acknowledgement. Even if you change a few of the words, it’s still plagiarism.

To quote correctly, introduce the quotation in your own words, make sure it’s enclosed in quotation marks, and include a citation showing where it comes from.

Original text
“Ancient Sparta has been held up for the last two and a half millennia as the unmatched warrior city-state, where every male was raised from infancy to fight to the death. This view, as ingrained as it is alluring, is almost entirely false” (Cole, 2021).
Example: Verbatim plagiarism
For the last 2,500 years, Ancient Sparta has been considered the unmatched warrior city-state in popular imagination. The idea that every male was raised from infancy to fight to the death, as ingrained as it is alluring, is actually not true.
Example: Quoted correctly with a citation
For the last 2,500 years, Ancient Sparta has been considered the “unmatched warrior city-state” in popular imagination, where “every male was raised from birth to fight to the death.” Despite its prominence, this perception is highly misleading (Cole, 2021).

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Patchwork plagiarism: Combining multiple sources

Patchwork plagiarism, also called mosaic plagiarism, involves copying elements of different sources and combining them to create a new text. It can include both directly copying and paraphrasing content without citation.

It can be challenging to incorporate several sources into your work at once, so be sure to double-check that you are citing each one correctly.

If you quote or paraphrase multiple sources in one sentence, it’s often best to cite each one separately, so that it’s clear what material comes from which source.

Original texts
“For many Americans, the eagle feather headdress is a generic symbol of Native America indivisible from the narrative of the wild west and cowboys and Indians” (Van Heuvelen, 2020).

“Americans have always remembered the battle. What we often forget are the difficult decisions tribal leaders made afterward to ensure the safety of their people” (Van Heuvelen, 2020).

“Under skies darkened by smoke, gunfire and flying arrows, 210 men of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Unit led by Lt. Colonel George Custer confronted thousands of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors on June 25, 1876, near the Little Big Horn River in present-day Montana. The engagement was one in a series of battles and negotiations between Plains Indians and U.S. forces over control of Western territory, collectively known as the Sioux Wars” (McDermott, 2021).

Example: Patchwork plagiarism
For many Americans, the headdress is a well-known symbol of indigenous America indistinguishable from the narrative of the “wild west and cowboys and Indians.” One of the most famous examples of the cowboys versus Indians narrative is the Battle of Little Bighorn. On June 25, 1876, 210 men of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Unit led by Lt. Colonel George Custer confronted thousands of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors. Custer and his men were handily defeated, and Americans have always remembered the battle as “Custer’s Last Stand.” What is often forgotten is the difficult decisions tribal leaders made afterward to ensure the safety of their people.
Example: Correctly citing multiple sources
The headdress is a well-known symbol of indigenous America, forming part of “the narrative of the wild west and cowboys and Indians” (Van Heuvelen, 2020). One of the most famous examples of this narrative is the Battle of Little Bighorn. On June 25, 1876, Lt. Colonel George Custer led a unit of 210 men of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry against thousands of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors (McDermott, 2021). Custer and his men were handily defeated, and Americans have always remembered the battle as “Custer’s Last Stand.” However, sometimes lost to history are the “difficult decisions tribal leaders made afterward” in seeking to protect their people, especially those most vulnerable (Van Heuvelen, 2020).

Common knowledge: When do I need a citation?

Common knowledge refers to information you can reasonably expect the average reader to accept without proof.

For this kind of information, you don’t need a citation. For example, you won’t be accused of plagiarism for failing to cite your sources when you mention Paris is the capital city of France.

In order to be considered common knowledge, your statement must be widely known, undisputed, and easily verified. It also generally cannot be attributed to a specific person or paper. When in doubt, add a citation.

Example: Common knowledge
Independence Day in the United States is celebrated on July 4.
Example: Not common knowledge—citation needed
The Continental Congress actually voted for independence on July 2, 1776, even though Independence Day today is celebrated every July 4.
Example: Correctly cited information
The Continental Congress actually voted for independence on July 2, 1776, even though Independence Day today is celebrated every July 4 (National Archives, 2005).

Real-life examples of plagiarism

Plagiarism is most commonly discussed in the context of academia, but it’s a relevant concern across all sorts of different industries, from pop music to politics.

Plagiarism in academic settings is not just limited to words. Using the datasets or research findings of others is also considered plagiarism.

In 2006, the Brookings Institute accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having plagiarized 80% of his economics dissertation from a paper published by the University of Pittsburgh a few decades earlier.

Dissertation plagiarism committed by other famous politicians, such as former Senator John Walsh, former German Defense Secretary Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, and former Hungarian President Pal Schmitt, led to their resignations and their degrees being revoked.

Source: CNN

Reusing or copying existing materials has been a big part of many types of art. However, it is still possible to plagiarize art.

In 1966, famous Pop Art artist Andy Warhol was sued by photographer Patricia Caulfield, who claimed unauthorized use of one of her photographs. Warhol had seen her photo of hibiscus flowers in the 1964 issue of Modern Photography and used it for his silkscreen work Flowers.

While Warhol’s team argued that this was “fair use,” a judge determined that Warhol had, in fact, plagiarized the photo. This led to enduring reputation costs and a large financial settlement.

Source: Garden Collage

Many political speeches revolve around similar themes, but while it is natural to draw inspiration from previous speeches, paraphrasing them too closely is considered plagiarism.

In 2016, a speech Melania Trump gave at the Republican National Convention was found to have copied several paragraphs almost verbatim from a speech Michelle Obama gave at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. While her staff claimed that she had incorporated “fragments of others’ speeches that reflected her own thinking,” she was widely considered to have plagiarized.

Joe Biden was found to have committed similar plagiarism in a speech he gave during the 1988 presidential campaign, paraphrasing a speech by Welsh politician Neil Kinnock too closely.

Source: CNN

While technically no one owns a chord progression or particular combination of sounds, plagiarism in the music industry is a common accusation.

In 2018, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2013 hit song “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, infringed on the copyright of the song “Got to Give it Up,” by the late Marvin Gaye. The Gaye family was awarded over $5 million in damages as well as 50% of the royalties moving forward.

This sets a precedent that new music must be different in both style and substance from previously copyrighted songs. Other hit artists, such as Sam Smith, George Harrison, and Olivia Rodrigo, have faced similar consequences.

Source: ABC News

Frequently asked questions about plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism means presenting someone else’s work as your own without giving proper credit to the original author. In academic writing, plagiarism involves using words, ideas, or information from a source without including a citation.

Plagiarism can have serious consequences, even when it’s done accidentally. To avoid plagiarism, it’s important to keep track of your sources and cite them correctly.

What are some examples of plagiarism?

Some examples of plagiarism include:

  • Copying and pasting a Wikipedia article into the body of an assignment
  • Quoting a source without including a citation
  • Not paraphrasing a source properly, such as maintaining wording too close to the original
  • Forgetting to cite the source of an idea

The most surefire way to avoid plagiarism is to always cite your sources. When in doubt, cite!

If you’re concerned about plagiarism, consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission. Scribbr’s Plagiarism Checker takes less than 10 minutes and can help you turn in your paper with confidence.

Do I have to cite common knowledge?

Common knowledge does not need to be cited. However, you should be extra careful when deciding what counts as common knowledge.

Common knowledge encompasses information that the average educated reader would accept as true without needing the extra validation of a source or citation.

Common knowledge should be widely known, undisputed and easily verified. When in doubt, always cite your sources.

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 you plagiarize yourself?

Yes, reusing your own work without acknowledgment is considered self-plagiarism. This can range from re-submitting an entire assignment to reusing passages or data from something you’ve turned in previously without citing them.

Self-plagiarism often has the same consequences as other types of plagiarism. If you want to reuse content you wrote in the past, make sure to check your university’s policy or consult your professor.

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.