1. People & Relationships
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What Is Plagiarism?

Hard to Spell, Important to Know


Students in the library studying together
franckreporter/ Vetta/ Getty Images

Plagiarism in college is a big problem. It's covered in new student college orientation programs, in university handbooks, and even in the media. But what exactly counts as plagiarism in college?

In a nutshell, plagiarism is using something that isn't yours -- and claiming that it is. Good college papers, of course, use quotations and examples from appropriate texts and cite where that information came from (both in the text and in a Works Cited page). Bad college papers take chunks of quotations, information, ideas, or even the entire paper and present that information as the original idea of the author (i.e., student).

Examples of Plagiarism in College

  • Taking quotations or passages directly from somewhere else and presenting them as your own work. If you take a quotation, a paragraph, several paragraphs, lines of computer code, or basically any amount of text from somewhere else, it needs to be cited, plain and simple.

  • Taking ideas from somewhere else and presenting it as your own work. Your thesis (or analysis or whatever) needs to be your own, not something you read somewhere else and now want to write about as if it were your own. Taking something that you like, and trying to rewrite it in your own words, can also count as plagiarism if you are presenting that information as your own.

  • Cutting and pasting from the Internet. The idea that information on the Internet is in the public domain is true. The idea that you can then use that information and present it as your own is definitely not true. Yes, information (and even papers) are widely available on the Internet, but that doesn't mean you can take that information and claim credit for it. Doing so definitely counts as plagiarism. (And in some cases doing so can also count as violating someone else's copyright.)

  • Some classes and professors consider unauthorized group work plagiarism. While it may sound ridiculous and strict to you, your professor has a reason (and the right) to request that students sometimes not work together on a project, problem set, etc. In that case, if you work as part of a group, you can be charged with plagiarism. Why? Because you were tasked with creating something of your own work -- but you probably submitted something that included the work of others and didn't mention it.

  • Some professors will consider turning in a paper you've already used for another class as plagiarism. While this isn't common, it does happen. Even though the work is technically your own (hopefully!), using a paper you wrote for another class may not meet the assignment of coming up with an original work.

In short: When in doubt, cite it or don't use it. After all, it's easier to just crank that assignment out, no matter how tired you are, than it is to deal with being brought up on plagiarism charges and having to deal with the consequences (like being put on academic probation, failing the assignment, failing the class, or even being kicked out of school).

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.