Imagine your teacher has asked you to complete an assignment. After searching the Web (or going straight to Wikipedia) you find exactly what you were looking for. Success! You highlight the relevant text. You copy & paste it onto your document. You change the font. You alter a word here and there. You don’t acknowledge that most of the words that you copied & pasted are not your own (but are someone else’s). You don’t indicate where you found the information (even if you used your own words). You continue your research. You hand in your assignment.

Did you do anything wrong?

If your answer is “No,” you’re mistaken! (The correct answer is “Yes.”)

Why? Because whenever you use someone else’s words or ideas but lead other people to believe that those words or ideas are your own, you engage in a form of cheating known as PLAGIARISM (usually pronounced “PLAY-juh-rih-zem” (with 4 syllables) but sometimes pronounced “PLAY-jee-uh-rih-zem” (with 5 syllables)).

Plagiarism usually involves both theft and fraud: theft through the act of stealing someone else’s words or ideas and fraud through the act of claiming those words or ideas as your own. Both the English word “plagiarism” (the verb is “to plagiarize”) and the Spanish word “plagio” (the verb is “plagiar”) actually come from the ancient Greek and Latin words for “kidnapping.” (This fact alone should make it very clear that plagiarism is something that is taken very seriously.)

So how can you avoid committing plagiarism?

FIRST: by always indicating where you found the information that you use (for example the name and URL of the website and specific webpage)

This is called “citing your source.”

SECOND: by using quotation marks (“ ”) whenever you use someone else’s words.

This is called “direct quotation.”

THIRD: by trying whenever possible to use your own words (rather that someone else’s).

This is called “paraphrasing.”

Using your own words to describe what someone else has written or said is useful not only because it helps us to avoid committing plagiarism but also because it helps us to better understand – and communicate – what we have read or heard someone else write or say.

Just remember: Even when you paraphrase, you still must cite your source.

Here are some typical examples of plagiarism:

(a) handing in someone else’s assignment (from a previous year or a different class) and claiming it as your own
(b) handing in (or borrowing heavily) from one of your own past assignments
(c) copying & pasting most of your assignment from a single source or from a combination of different sources
(d) copying & pasting most of your assignment from other sources but making small changes to the original phrasing here and there
(e) paraphrasing other sources but not indicating (“citing”) in your assignment what those sources are (for example, the name of the website or the book and page number)
(f) directly quoting someone else’s words without putting those words in quotation marks

Not all plagiarism is intentional. The easiest way to avoid committing plagiarism accidentally is by keeping careful notes whenever you are reading or researching. If you find something that you think you may use in an assignment, immediately make yourself a detailed note describing where you found it.

A plagiarized assignment is very likely to receive a failing grade. Repeat offenders may even be suspended from school. So don’t commit plagiarism!