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The Writing Center

Plagiarism Guide:

What is it? How do I identify and avoid it?

Plagiarism occurs when one uses someone else’s wording or ideas without appropriately attributing ownership to the author or authors.  The purchasing, theft, or use of entire pieces of work are sometimes submitted as one’s own writing.  Other forms of plagiarism consist of patching together sentences or paragraphs of direct language without an indication that the words were composed by another person.  Missing or incorrect attribution of wording or ideas also falls into the category of plagiarism.  Even submitting work that was previously published or submitted for credit can be considered plagiarism. 

In college, plagiarism can occur for reasons ranging from laziness to students panicking at an upcoming deadline.  Sometimes plagiarism is mixed with large swaths of a student’s own original work in an effort to save the student time.  In some cases, plagiarism can be unintentional, such as the accidental omission of quotation marks, wording that is too similar to a source, or failure to identify ideas or concepts as another’s work. describes various types of plagiarism in the following way: 

Direct plagiarism: Taking another person’s ideas word for word without giving proper citation.

Mosaic plagiarism: Quoting another’s work without quotation marks. This can also refer to replacing words in another’s work with synonyms while maintaining the same overall structure and meaning.

Self-plagiarism: Submitting your own previous work as part of a current assignment without permission.

Accidental plagiarism:  Forgetting to cite sources, misquoting sources, or paraphrasing sources without giving credit where credit is due. (Van Nest)

Plagiarism can be identified by the use of software such as SafeAssign or Turnitin or by pasting wording from suspicious text into a plagiarism checker.  Instructors can also detect plagiarism by noticing that a student’s writing style has shifted or contains language and terminology that stands out from a student’s academic expertise.  Although it’s not possible for instructors to know for certain whether or not plagiarism is intentional, it is possible to categorize the infraction by levels of severity, typically by assessing the portion of the wording that was lifted without reference.

Quotation marks (or language set aside as block quotations) indicate borrowed language.  A lack of quotation marks (or block quotations) indicates that the words on the page were composed by you; therefore, everything that appears without quotation marks (or block quotations) that was taken from another source is plagiarism.  When you have up to four or five consecutive words that are an exact match for a source, that's the point at which you need to incorporate quotation marks.  You must also attribute the quoted work to the appropriate author by use of in-text citations, and a coordinating citation should appear in a bibliography (called a References page in APA and a Works Cited page in MLA) for each source you use in your essay. 

You’ll also want to consider that you should only be using borrowed language in up to 10% of your essay, which means that, at the very least, 90% of the essay should be in your own words.  An essay that is pieced together from large sections of already-existing text isn’t considered an original composition. You should still use all of your sources and include ideas from them (and cite them with in-text citations, and include each source in your bibliography), but you should summarize or paraphrase most of the concepts you take from other sources instead of incorporating all of them word-for-word. 

To avoid any temptation of intentionally committing plagiarism, you’ll want to create small deadlines for yourself.  Begin writing projects as soon as you have access to the assignment.  Ask clarifying questions of your instructors.  Be familiar with the traditional steps of essay creation such as brainstorming, outlining, and research so you’re not overwhelmed by the task of composing your essay.  Double-check your work for accidental plagiarism with online plagiarism checkers, and use resources like KCKCC’s Writing Center for an extra set of eyes.    

Consequences for plagiarism can vary from college to college, course to course, and instructor to instructor.   Instructors must also consider factors such as the degree of plagiarism and previous relevant history with each student.  The following is the official statement about plagiarism from Kansas City Kansas’s Handbook and Code of Conduct:

No student shall engage in behavior that in the judgment of the instructor of a class, may be construed as cheating. This may include, but is not limited to, plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty such as the acquisition, without permission, of tests or other academic material and/or distribution of these materials. This includes students who aid and abet, as well as those who attempt such behavior.

Examples of plagiarism include:

Any attempt to take credit for work that is not your own, such as using direct quotes from an author without using quotation marks or indentation in the paper.

Paraphrasing work that is not your own without giving credit to the original source of the idea.

Failing to properly cite all resources in the body of your work.

The use of complete or partial papers from internet paper mills or other sources of non-original work without attribution. (Kansas City Kansas Community College)

In addition, this is what the KCKCC’s English Department has to say:

Students who plagiarize borrow the language, thoughts, and ideas of another author, directly or indirectly, and claim them as their own.  The most blatant form of plagiarism is to use directly quoted material with no quotation marks and/or no reference to the source.  Borrowed material that students paraphrase but do not document is also plagiarism.  In fact, any form of cheating-crib sheets during tests, copying another student's work inside or outside of class, buying papers, etc.- is plagiarism.  If students have any doubts about borrowing information, they should ask the instructor.  The penalties for plagiarism can be severe and may include failing the paper and/or failing the course.  However, the penalty in a given cased is at the discretion of the individual instructor.  As you move along in your schooling, the consequences for plagiarism will become more severe, so it’s best to confront any bad habits or misunderstandings regarding this issue early on.  (“Syllabus for Composition II”)

Kansas City Kansas Community College. "Cheating or Plagiarism." Student Handbook and Code of 

     Conduct,  Sept. 2019,

     code-of-conduct-20181.pdf. Accessed 18 July 2019.


"Syllabus for Composition II." Department of English, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Kansas City,

     KS, March. 2016. Accessed 18 July 2019.


University of Tennessee Chattanooga Library. "Examples of Plagiarism.", 2019, Accessed 18 July



Van Nest, Allison. "5 Most Effective Methods for Avoiding Plagiarism." Grammarly Blog, 18 Feb. 2015, Accessed 18

     July 2019.


Test yourself to see if you feel comfortable with these concepts. 

1. In your own words, how would you define plagiarism?

2.  Think of two reasons why a student might commit plagiarism. 

3.  What’s the difference between intentional and unintentional plagiarism?  Think of an example of each. 

4.  If you were a teacher, would you attempt to make a distinction between intentional and unintentional plagiarism?  Why or why not?  What might make the task difficult? ­­­­

5.  A sentence from a source reads:  “Children have been seen behaving in a hyperactive manner after consuming large quantities of candy, but there is no scientific data to explain the biological mechanism behind this change in behavior.”  Without quotation marks or any indication that the language or idea is borrowed, a student writes in his essay:  There is no scientific data that explains the biological mechanism of hyperactivity in children after they consume large quantities of candy.

Would you consider the student to have committed plagiarism?  Why or why not?

6.  Depending on the institution and the instructor, the penalties for plagiarism vary dramatically—from revising the assignment to failure for the course to expulsion from the school.   What do you think would be an appropriate penalty for a student who clearly plagiarized intentionally?   What factors might influence the penalty?   Why?

7.  Think of two ways a student can avoid unintentional plagiarism.