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Research Essentials: Avoid Plagiarism and How to Cite Sources

Purpose of Guide

The Plagiarism Guide is a good starting point for information on academic integrity. We recommend contacting your professor first when you have any doubts or questions on whether or not something is considered plagiarism.

Plagiarism Essentials

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to "plagiarize" means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud involving both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.


But can words and ideas really be stolen?

Yes, according to U.S. law. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way, such as a book or a computer file.

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)

Visit for videos and tips.

Anyone who has written or graded a paper knows that plagiarism is not always an obvious issue. Learning to recognize the various forms of plagiarism is an important step towards effective prevention. Below are the ways a writer might plagiarize.

Sources Not Cited 

  • "The Ghost Writer"
    The writer turns in another's work, word-for-word, as his or her own.
  • "The Photocopy"
    The writer copies significant portions of text straight from a single source, without alteration.
  • "The Potluck Paper"
    The writer tries to disguise plagiarism by copying from several different sources, tweaking the sentences to make them fit together while retaining most of the original phrasing.
  • "The Poor Disguise"
    Although the writer has retained the essential content of the source, he or she has altered the paper's appearance slightly by changing keywords and phrases.
  • "The Labor of Laziness"
    The writer takes the time to paraphrase most of the paper from other sources and make it all fit together, instead of spending the same effort on original work.
  • "The Self-Stealer"
    The writer "borrows" generously from his or her previous work, violating policies concerning the expectation of originality adopted by most academic institutions.

Sources Cited (But Still Plagiarized)

  • "The Forgotten Footnote"
    The writer mentions an author's name for a source but neglects to include specific information on the location of the material referenced. 
  • "The Misinformer"
    The writer provides inaccurate information regarding the sources, making it impossible to find them.
  • "The Too-Perfect Paraphrase"
    The writer properly cites a source but neglects to put the text that has been copied word-for-word, or close to it in quotation marks. Although attributing the basic ideas to the source, the writer is falsely claiming original presentation and interpretation of the information.
  • "The Resourceful Citer"
    The writer properly cites all sources, paraphrasing and using quotations appropriately. The catch? The paper contains almost no original work! 
  • "The Perfect Crime"
    Well, we all know it doesn't exist. In this case, the writer properly quotes and cites sources in some places, but goes on to paraphrase other arguments from those sources without citation. This way, the writer tries to pass off the paraphrased material as his or her own analysis of the cited material.


Real Examples of Plagiarism outside of Iona  

If you do a Google search with keywords: examples famous plagiarism cases, you will find instances of some very famous people in all fields who paid dearly by marring their career, disgracing themselves in their professional lives, and paying very costly fines by plagiarizing.

 The best way to avoid this misfortune is to learn how to write and cite the words and ideas of others properly while in college. It’s your responsibility.

Where to get help if you have questions about citing sources and plagiarism

Paraphrasing: How to Avoid Plagiarism

Why is Plagiarism Wrong?

Plagiarism is a form of cheating, theft, and deceit.  When you plagiarize, you are:

  • creating an opportunity for faculty and /or future employers to question your integrity and performance, which may lead to disciplinary actions
  • deceiving faculty who are evaluating your work
  • depriving another author due credit for his or her work
  • showing disrespect for your peers who put effort into doing their own work
  • denying yourself the opportunity to practice, improve, and receive feedback on the skills that will be needed in your future education and career 

Learn more from this video on Academic Integrity

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Paraphrase correctly and cite your sources:

  • Synthesize a passage of text and describe it (the idea) in your own words.
  • Restate or summarize someone else's words or ideas (that fall outside of common knowledge) and give credit to the author.
  • Use quotation marks around a phrase or sentence that you use. 
  • Cite the source of your information unless it's considered common  knowledge. Common knowledge is information that a majority of people either know or can find in a variety of sources, such as historic facts and geographic data; it does not need to be cited.

     Examples of common knowledge:

  • Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States.
  • The U.S. entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
  • Albany is the Capital of New York State.