Avoiding Plagiarism

Importance: ★★★


When an assignment is submitted for assessment, that assignment should represent the writer’s own ideas, voice and language proficiency. When a submitted assignment turns out to consist of ideas or phrases—or entire passages—actually authored by someone else, it is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is an ethical issue, but it is also an issue of understanding conventions regarding integrity and originality in the presentation of ideas. Naturally, it applies to speech as well as to writing, and while plagiarism of a certain type may be very easy to avoid, there are also more subtle cases of plagiarism. Here are a few of the more common types:

Copy and paste plagiarism: This type of plagiarism is an ethical breach; it is the blatant theft of phrases or passages from someone else’s text. It consists in taking another author’s composition, or a part of it, and passing it off as one’s own writing. An example would be copying a sentence from a Wikipedia entry and adding it to one’s essay without quotation marks and a citation of the source. When it is necessary to use someone else’s words, always use quotation marks and cite the source.

Idea appropriation: Taking someone else’s idea without crediting the source is intellectually dishonest. There is no need to cite a source when the information is common knowledge, or uncontroversial knowledge of the type that can be checked in a dictionary (“Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia” or “Plato is the author of The Republic”). Original ideas, however, should always be credited to their authors, and sources should be cited for less accessible information (“Opened in 1901, Ljubljana’s Dragon Bridge is considered a fine example of the Vienna Secessionist style of architecture” or “Plato’s portrayal of Socrates is not very authentic”). Never present ideas or facts that are not common knowledge without citing a source.

Illegitimate paraphrase: Paraphrase is a writing tool that allows writers to incorporate other writers’ ideas into their texts without having to quote extensively. When used correctly, it results in a better flow and a more consistent voice. However, it is a difficult tool to use accurately and legitimately. Replacing words with synonyms, for example, is not enough, even if a citation is submitted. In an illegitimate paraphrase, the author correctly credits the source of an idea from another text, but follows the structure and phrasing of that source too closely. To produce a legitimate paraphrase, a writer needs to submit a citation and represent the idea in a way that is completely his or her own.


Plagiarism is presenting another’s words or ideas as one’s own; whether intentional or not, it is always an ethical breach and may have serious consequences.

Further Resources

For more on plagiarism and language learners, see the Purdue OWL’s Plagiarism and ESL Writers: An Overview.

For a discussion of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing, see Successful vs. unsuccessful paraphrases from the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin.