Plagiarism and Avoiding It


When doing any kind of research, it is important to make sure you give credit to the sources you use. "Plagiarism results when a writer fails to document a source and presents the words and ideas of someone else as the writer's own work" (Prentice Hall Reference Guide).

So why is plagiarism taken so seriously in U.S. academic writing? The reasons are that plagiarism is considered stealing other individuals' work and defeats the purpose of education. Plagiarism in academia and in business can ruin a writer's credibility and have serious consequences, such as expulsion from school or loss of a job.

Consequences of Plagiarism Examples

  • According to a Boston University investigation into academic misconduct, Martin Luther King plagiarized approximately one third of his doctoral thesis. He also appropriated others' text, without credit, for his famous speeches, including "I Have A Dream."
  • George Harrison was successfully sued for plagiarizing (though perhaps unconsciously) the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" for the melody of his own "My Sweet Lord."
  • Senator Joseph Biden was forced to withdraw from the 1988 Democratic Presidential primary when it was revealed that he had failed a course in law school due to plagiarism. It was also shown that he had copied several campaign speeches, notably those of British Labour leader Neil Kinnock and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In both cases he was essentially
  • Psychology professor RenĂ© Diekstra, also well-known as the author of popular books, left Leiden University in 1997 after accusations of plagiarism. Proceedings continued as of 2003, with Diekstra contesting a report about him on this matter.
  • Moorestown, New Jersey, high-school student Blair Hornstine had her admission to Harvard University revoked in July 2003 after she was found to have passed off speeches and writings by famous figures including Bill Clinton as her own original prose in articles she wrote as a student journalist for a local newspaper.

You Can Recognize Plagiarism in Three Ways

  • Using someone's exact words without quotation marks or citing the source
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing someone' words without citing the source
  • Stating ideas or research specifically attributed to another person without citing the source

Avoiding Plagiarism

Types of information that require documentation are quoting, summarizing or paraphrasing your sources.

Quoting should be used if you are stating the exact words from your source.

  • Quote when writer's words are especially vivid, memorable, or expressive
  • Quote when paraphrase would be less clear and more words
  • Quote when the exact words are important to your discussion

Summarizing is condensing your source's information.

  • Write summary in your own words, not copied from source
  • Include main points, omitting details, facts etc.
  • Use fewer words than source
  • Be objective and do NOT include interpretation

Paraphrasing is rephrasing your source's information.

  • Write approximately the same number of words as source
  • Use your own words and not copied from source
  • Do not use same structure as original with synonyms
  • Be objective and do NOT include interpretation

Information that does not need to be documented is common knowledge. This is general ideas and typically, if the information is found in five or more reliable sources, it is common knowledge.

For example
  • George Washington is our first U.S. president
  • The earth is third planet from the sun
  • Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen

Easy Ways to Avoid Plagiarism

  • Starting your paper early
  • Beginning your research process early
  • Taking notes as you read and reading bibliographic information for source material
  • Indicating in notes quotes, paraphrases or summaries
  • Recording all URLs of Web pages used for research
  • Continuing to add sources to bibliography page
  • Asking if you are unsure is something is plagiarism

Illinois Institute of Technology addresses fair usage of information in the IIT Student Affairs Handbook, under Code of Academic Honesty.


Markel, Mike. Technical Communication. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007

Harris, Muriel. Prentice Hall Reference Guide. 7th ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.

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