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ENGL 308 Research Guide (Hartzog): Plagiarism Defined

What is Plagiarism?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means:

  1. to steal and pass off (the ideas and words of another) as one’s own
  2. to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  3. to commit literary theft
  4. to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source


The following actions constitute plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else’s work and claiming it as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit (this including copying/pasting from Internet sources!)
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • paraphrasing or changing the words of the original source of information without giving credit


Common Knowledge:

You don’t have to give credit to common knowledge: facts and common observations that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by many people.

Common knowledge  that you don’t need to cite:

Below is a fact that is not generally known. You must cite this:

George W. Bush was first elected President in 2000

According the American Family Leave Coalition’s new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush’s relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation (6).

When in doubt if something you want to use is common knowledge,
be safe and cite the source!


To avoid plagiarism, give credit whenever you use:

  • another person’s idea, opinion, or theory
  • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings - or other data - that are not common knowledge
  • direct quotations of another person’s spoken or written words
  • your paraphrased version of another person’s spoken or written words.

Plagiarism can be avoided simply by citing your sources.  Acknowledge all borrowed material and providing your audience with the information necessary to find those sources. That is usually enough to prevent plagiarism!

Adapted from information at

How to tell if you are plagiarizing