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Plagiarism: Brief Summary

Plagiarism can be described as the act of wrongfully appropriating another person’s words, ideas or intellectual property and passing them off as your own. As a concept, it is primarily concerned with false claims of authorship and it is especially prevalent in fields such as journalism, academia, science and the arts. Although plagiarism is not a crime in of itself, instances of plagiarism can often constitute copyright infringement and even fraud.


Generally, plagiarism is punished by institutions, rather than through law courts. For instance, it is considered a serious breach of ethics within the fields of journalism and academia, where it is often punished severely, sometimes even resulting in dismissal. Despite the serious nature of the offence, most accusations of plagiarism can be avoided by simply crediting original sources when their words, images, or ideas are used.


Plagiarism: Detailed Summary

While the act of plagiarism involves copying or stealing someone else’s intellectual property, it can take many different forms. For example, copying and pasting chunks of text from a book and failing to give credit to the original source would be one example of plagiarism, but it may also be plagiarism if ideas are copied, even if the words are changed significantly. This is sometimes referred to as plagiarism of ideas.


The issue of plagiarism is particularly common in academic settings, despite serious attempts to stamp it out. One study, carried out by the Psychological Record, found that 36 percent of university students at undergraduate level admit to having plagiarised written material. Meanwhile, research conducted by staff at Rutgers University found that 58 percent of high school students admit to having done the same at least once.


In many instances, plagiarism is not carried out for malicious reasons, but because people lack an understanding of precisely what plagiarism is and why it is such a serious issue. It is for this reason that many universities have made efforts to increase so-called plagiarism education, and many academic institutions, publishing companies and websites have their own definitions, with established guidelines for avoiding problems.


One form of plagiarism that often occurs, but which people may carry out with no malicious intent, is known as self-plagiarism. This is where a person re-uses work they have previously published, such as in a book or website article, without acknowledging that they have done so. This type of plagiarism may not seem particularly serious, but it can raise issues surrounding copyright if the rights to the original work were transferred to another party.


Within the fields of journalism, book publishing and blogging, plagiarism is considered to be a very serious breach of ethics and is often viewed as akin to stealing. As a result, writers who are found to have plagiarised other authors may face disciplinary action and experience significant damage to their reputation. In some cases, journalists have even lost their jobs as a direct consequence of their actions.


A range of online and offline tools are available to help individuals and institutions with the detection of plagiarism, with examples including Copyscape, Turnitin and Viper. Nevertheless, while these tools may help by checking work against an internal database or external sources, they will not be able to detect all forms of plagiarism, especially when it is the plagiarism of ideas, rather than the straightforward re-use of chunks of text.



Types of Plagiarism

As previously stated, plagiarism can take many forms and while a dictionary can provide a definition of what it is, there are few clearly established rules. Indeed, some forms of plagiarism are much more obvious than others and even people with a basic understanding of the topic may struggle to know exactly where the line is drawn with certain practices. To help out, below, we have compiled a list of some common forms of plagiarism.


  • Directly copying another person’s work and failing to cite them as the original source.
  • Submitting or publishing another person’s intellectual property as your own.
  • Quoting somebody else’s words, but failing to cite the original source.
  • Re-using your own work, without acknowledging that it has previously been published elsewhere.
  • Stealing other people’s ideas or thoughts, without referencing them as the original author.
  • Translating foreign language content into English and then publishing it as your own.
  • Inaccurately citing the original source, or citing the wrong original source.
  • Only referencing some of the sources that should be cited.
  • Re-writing another person’s work, without introducing original thought and without citing them.


Ways to Avoid Plagiarism

Despite the stigma attached to plagiarism, a huge number of instances are accidental, stemming from bad writing practices, rather than malicious intent. One of the single best ways to avoid plagiarism is to make sure direct quotes are placed in quotation marks, with a reference made to the original source. It is also important for authors to try to limit the amount of content they take from a single source, even if it is referenced properly.


A major issue with plagiarism is the fact that multiple authors may use similar phraseology, even if they are completely unaware of each other’s work. Yet, a writer who publishes content which closely resembles previously published work may be opening themselves up to accusations of plagiarism, regardless of intent. For this reason, authors should consider investing in plagiarism detection software, or using a free online tool.


Where possible, writers should try to develop their own unique writing style or ‘voice’. Multiple different sources should be consulted when researching a topic and any ideas that originate from them should be clearly referenced. Authors should also aim to introduce as much original thought into their writing as is possible.


In schools and other academic institutions, plagiarism can be reduced by making sure students are aware of what plagiarism is and which practices fall under its umbrella. Some of the more obvious and malicious cases of plagiarism may be detected through the use of plagiarism detection software, but teachers and other staff should be aware of the other forms of plagiarism that exist and try to keep an eye out for examples of them.


Finally, writers can take certain steps to try to prevent their own work from being plagiarised. These range from simple steps, such as placing copyright warnings on content, or asking for quotes to be referenced appropriately, to more advanced methods, like disabling the copy, cut and right-click functions on a web page.




Plagiarism describes the act of stealing another person’s intellectual property and attempting to pass it off as your own work. It can take many forms, ranging from straight forward copying of content to plagiarism of ideas and even self-plagiarism. Despite the fact that plagiarism itself is not a crime, plagiarism of copyrighted materials can be, and plagiarism is considered a serious breach of ethics in fields like journalism, academia and the arts.


To avoid plagiarism, it is important to clearly reference original sources when ideas, expressions or direct quotes are taken from them. Authors should also aim to create genuinely unique content, containing original thoughts. Studies show that plagiarism is especially prevalent in schools and universities, so it is essential that academic institutions take measures to help educate students and detect when plagiarism occurs in their work.

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