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Plagiarism Basics

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism Definition in a Dictionary

Plagiarism is defined as, "the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work" (from Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd. Ed. (1993)).  In other words, it's taking the work of someone else and passing it off as your own!

Plagiarism is more than copying work.  It can include improperly paraphrasing or using direct quotations, not correctly citing the work of others, or reusing the work done for a class or project in a different one. 

Plagiarism can occur in a school or university, and also on a job or in professional settings.  Outside of school, authors, speakers, entertainers, and other public figures have had their work plagiarized, and these same groups of people have been accused of plagiarism. 

See this guide for more about plagiarism, why it matters, and what you can do to minimize it.

Student Learning Objectives

After completing the Plagiarism Basics guide, students will be able to do the following:

  • Define plagiarism and its different types.
  • Describe the significance of plagiarism and academic integrity.
  • Examine examples of plagiarism in professional and academic settings.
  • Identify proper and incorrect uses of information from other sources.
  • Outline ways to minimize plagiarism.

Image: Webster’s (2005).  Plagiarism.  In Webster’s II New College Dictionary (3rd Ed.) [Image].  Houghton Mifflin.

More on Plagiarism

Padron, K. (2022).  Introduction to plagiarism [YouTube video].  Florida Atlantic University Libraries.  

Why Does Plagiarism Matter?

Student studying at PCYour professors are busy with discovering and creating new knowledge in their disciplines.  They do this by becoming knowledgeable in their subject, and then either create new work like books, articles, or creative works or undertake focused studies or research.  Their results contribute new creations or information for their subject's body of knowledge, and then is shared with the public and others in their profession.

Attribution and Transparency:  Cite It!

Your professors are expected to show their sources of information used in their work, and also show how they did it in order for their work to be considered trustworthy.  They have to cite their work, known as attribution.  Attribution identifies an idea's original source which allows readers to see and read it.  This helps with transparency:  interested readers can see where your professor got his or her ideas, and also how they did their work.  Attribution also gives credit and recognition to the original authors or creators used. 

Assignment Requirements and Communication

In college assignments, most professors want you to document your sources of information so you can identify and give credit to the person who had the original idea.  It also helps show how you got your ideas and came to your own conclusions.  Attribution or showing your work also prepares you to learn the conventions of communicating your ideas and work in academic or other professional settings.  Whether you become a journalist, electrical engineer, or English teacher, you will frequently build your ideas on the work of others and write to communicate.

Academic Honesty and Ethical Behavior

The problem with plagiarism is a person does not receive credit or recognition for his or her ideas.  Do you want someone to take your work and claim it is theirs?  What if you spent hours working on an assignment only for someone to copy it and earn the same grade as you?  You were the one who did the hard work, so was that fair?  No, it wasn't!

The bigger deal about plagiarism is that it is unethical!  Plagiarism is like cheating, or stealing ideas and the work of others.  Ethical behavior is a foundation in academic and professional settings, and it is based on norms of mutual trust, personal integrity, honesty, and individual responsibility.  Unethical behavior can also be harmful to you and others. 

Image Credit:  Student studying at computer, by LinkedIn Sales Solutions.  Permission by Unsplash license.

Plagiarism and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Many people are exploring artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots such as ChatGPT, and are also using them to create content. 

Certain uses of AI may acceptable when considering why and how much is used, and if it is attributed: 

Assignments that allow the use of AI:   A public administration student was assigned to use ChatGPT to generate a statement about a policy problem.  Once they had content, they had to edit it for errors, add supporting data and information, and create their own conclusion.
Learning about a topic (be aware the information may not be completely accurate): An art student wanted an explanation of prairie-style architecture and what historical or environmental events influenced its designs.
Generating ideas:   A librarian used ChatGPT to create limericks for word games with her 10-year old child.
Automatically presenting factual information from a trusted source:   Los Angeles Times created Quakebot to provide residents of its earthquake-prone region with immediate information about seismic activity; U.S. Geological Survey is cited as its source. 
Using AI in scholarly activities with clear explanations and purposes of its use and citing the source of its content:   A professor wrote an article about using ChatGPT in journalism, distinguished the content he created from that of the chatbot, and used it to reach his own conclusions.

Am I plagiarizing if I use AI?

While exploring or using AI on its own is not considered to be unethical, the following uses can possibly be considered plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty:

  • Copying and pasting AI-generated content without attribution or citing its source.
  • Using the work created by someone (or something) else and passing it off as one's own.
  • Including a direct quote from a source without proper citation or not using it to support points made. 

In addition, copying and not citing content created from AI may be considered unethical because someone is not putting in the expected effort to learn, earn a grade, or be published.  Many college, universities, and publishers are exploring policies on using AI in assignments.

A Caveat 

Exploring AI can be informative or entertaining, but be mindful of its use in your assignments or publications.  For information about acceptable and non-acceptable uses of AI in your work, refer to your course syllabus or relevant school/ work policies.  Whether your information is from a book, journal article, or computer-generated content, it should be used ethically.

Original Content Statement

Revisions and expanded content by Kristy Padron, MLIS (2017, 2024)
Original content by Rachael Neu, MLS (2014) 

Last updated on Jul 8, 2024 2:33 PM