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Best Practice: Plagiarism

This article is archived and is no longer updated. Go to the latest information on avoiding plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a serious offense with serious consequences

Merriam-Webster definitions for plagiarism:

  • Using the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.
  • Stealing and passing off—the ideas or words of another—as one's own.
  • Using (another's production) without crediting the source.
  • Committing literary theft.
  • Presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.1

Few people consider copying from the web serious cheating. However, anything published on the web is considered an original expression of an idea, which is protected by copyright laws.

Practicing plagiarism can destroy your personal, academic, and professional reputation. The result may have both legal and monetary repercussions.2

You can avoid plagiarism

Learn what plagiarism is. Many types of plagiarism exist—from cloning to recycling. Know the types of plagiarism to avoid them (available English only).

Understand how to cite your sources. Confirm which style of citing sources your instructors expect as they have many to choose from. Know the style each instructor prefers. If you have a choice, choose one style and use it consistently.

Plan your assignment work. Summarize your original idea and plan how you intend to express it. Create drafts and outlines, indicate what sources you intend to find, and explain how you intend to use them.

Know your subject. The more familiar you are with the subject, the more likely you are to use your own words. The more sources you look at, the more familiar you will become with the subject. Be sure to track your sources.

Take notes when you review sources. Good note taking can help organize your thoughts and express someone else's ideas in your own words.

Cite your sources. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution and cite your sources.

Be careful to clearly identify someone else's ideas and words. Citing sources is not enough. Be clear as to who said what. When it is due, give credit to your sources.

Check for plagiarism potential

SafeAssign is a tool available to you and your instructors. SafeAssign helps prevent plagiarism and creates opportunities to help you identify how to properly attribute sources rather than paraphrase.

SafeAssign is based on a unique text matching algorithm capable of detecting exact and inexact matching between a paper and source material. Assignments are compared against several databases containing millions of articles dating from the 1990s to the present. After the comparison, a report is generated that details the percentage of text in your paper that matches existing sources.


1"Plagiarize." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

2"6 Consequences of Plagiarism." 6 Consequences of Plagiarism. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

"Home." N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

"How to Avoid Plagiarism." WikiHow. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

Learn More

To learn more, see Assignments Using SafeAssign.