Part 1: The Writing Process

3 Intellectual Property: That’s Stealing!

Plagiarism is the theft of intellectual property!

You have probably heard the word plagiarism and would like to understand it better. You have come to the right place. In this chapter, you’ll learn:image

    • What plagiarism is
    • How to recognize seven different kinds of plagiarism
    • The correct way to use ‘open access’ materials
    • The consequences of plagiarism
    • How to avoid plagiarism by doing the following:
      • Citing sources correctly
      • Recognizing ‘common knowledge’
      • Writing good paraphrases
      • Writing good summaries
      • Taking careful notes

More important than you think!

In 2007, Senator John Walsh of Montana plagiarized a paper required for his master’s degree from the United States Army War College. The New York Times provides an interactive anatomy of plagiarism worth exploring:

How Senator John Walsh Plagiarized a Final Paper


How to Avoid Plagiarism in the Research Process

Plagiarism is the unauthorized or uncredited use of the writings or ideas of another in your writing.  While it might not be as tangible as auto theft or burglary, plagiarism is still a form of theft.
In the academic world, plagiarism is a serious matter because ideas in the forms of research, creative work, and original thought are highly valued.  Chances are, your school has strict rules about what happens when someone is caught plagiarizing.  The penalty for plagiarism is severe, everything from a failing grade for the plagiarized work, a failing grade for the class, or expulsion from the institution.
You might not be aware that plagiarism can take several different forms.  The most well known, purposeful plagiarism, is handing in an essay written by someone else and representing it as your own, copying your essay word for word from a magazine or journal, or downloading an essay from the Internet.
A much more common and less understood phenomenon is what I call accidental plagiarism.  Accidental plagiarism is the result of improperly paraphrasing, summarizing, quoting, or citing your evidence in your academic writing.  Generally, writers accidentally plagiarize because they simply don’t know or they fail to follow the rules for giving credit to the ideas of others in their writing.
Both purposeful and accidental plagiarism are wrong, against the rules, and can result in harsh punishments.  Ignoring or not knowing the rules of how to not plagiarize and properly cite evidence might be an explanation, but it is not an excuse.
To exemplify what I’m getting at, consider the examples below that use quotations and paraphrases from this brief passage:
Those who denounce cyberculture today strangely resemble those who criticized rock music during the fifties and sixties.  Rock started out as an Anglo-American phenomenon and has become an industry.  Nonetheless, it was able to capture the hopes of young people around the world and provided enjoyment to those of us who listened to or played rock.  Sixties pop was the conscience of one or two generations that helped bring the war in Vietnam to a close.  Obviously, neither rock nor pop has solved global poverty or hunger.  But is this a reason to be “against” them? (ix).
And just to make it clear that I’m not plagiarizing this passage, here is the citation in MLA style:

Lévy, Pierre.  Cyberculture.  Trans. Robert Bononno.  Minneapolis:  U of Minnesota P, 2001.


Here’s an obvious example of plagiarism:
Those who denounce cyberculture today strangely resemble those who criticized rock music during the fifties and sixties.

In this case, the writer has literally taken one of Lévy’s sentences and represented it as her own.  That’s clearly against the rules.

Here’s another example of plagiarism, perhaps less obvious:
The same kind of people who criticize cyberculture are the same kind of people who criticized rock and roll music back in the fifties and sixties.  But both cyberculture and rock music inspire and entertain young people.

While these aren’t Lévy’s exact words, they are certainly close enough to constitute a form of plagiarism.  And again, even though you might think that this is a “lesser” form of plagiarism, it’s still plagiarism.

Both of these passages can easily be corrected to make them acceptable quotations or paraphrases.
In the introduction of his book Cyberculture, Pierre Lévy observes that “Those who denounce cyberculture today strangely resemble those who criticized rock music during the fifties and sixties” (ix).
Pierre Lévy suggests that the same kind of people who criticize cyberculture are the same kind of people who criticized rock and roll music back in the fifties and sixties.  But both cyberculture and rock music inspire and entertain young people (ix).

Note that changing these passages from examples of plagiarism to acceptable examples of a quotation and a paraphrase is extremely easy:  properly cite your sources.

This leads to the “golden rule” of avoiding plagiarism:

Always cite your sources.  If you are unsure as to whether you should or should not cite a particular claim or reference, you should probably cite your source.


Often, students are unclear as to whether or not they need to cite a piece of evidence because they believe it to be “common knowledge” or because they are not sure about the source of information.  When in doubt about whether or not to cite evidence in order to give credit to a source (“common knowledge” or not), you should cite the evidence.


The Dangers of Plagiarism

Feary, P. (2008, September 11). The dangers of plagiarism. [Video]. YouTube.

How Much Do You Know About Plagiarism?

After completing this activity, you may download or print a completion report that summarizes your results.

What Is Plagiarism?

Definition of Plagiarism: Plagiarism means to take the words, ideas, or analysis that some other person has written and represent them as your own words, ideas, or analysis.

Plagiarism and the Internet

Sometimes, I think the ease of finding and retrieving information on the World Wide Web makes readers think that this information does not need to be cited.  After all, it isn’t a traditional source like a book or a journal; it is available for “free.”  All a research writer needs to do with a web site is “cut and paste” whatever he needs into his essay, right?  Wrong!
You need to cite the evidence you find from the Internet or the World Wide Web the same way you cite evidence from other sources.  To not do this is plagiarism, or, more bluntly, cheating.  Just because the information is “freely” available on the Internet does not mean you can use this information in your academic writing without properly citing it, much in the same way that the information from library journals and books “freely” available to you needs to be cited in order to give credit where credit is due.
It is also not acceptable to simply download graphics from the World Wide Web.  Images found on the Internet are protected by copyright laws.  Quite literally, taking images from the Web (particularly from commercial sources) is an offense that could lead to legal action.  There are places where you can find graphics and clip art that Web publishers have made publicly available for anyone to use, but be sure that the Web site where you find the graphics makes this explicit before you take graphics as your own.
In short, you can use evidence from the Web as long as you don’t plagiarize and as long as you properly cite it; don’t take graphics from the Web unless you know the images are in the public domain.

Open Access

But a lot of text on the Internet is “open access.” Can’t I use it?

No! A lot of text on the internet is freely available.

It may be labeled as “open access,” “Creative Commons License,” or “public domain.”

These terms mean that you can have access to the text, but it does not mean that you can use it as if it were your own writing!

Now, let’s watch a video about a student who is confused about plagiarism.

Types of Plagiarism

Most students understand that it’s wrong to plagiarize but are confused about what plagiarism really is. The following presentation will provide you with a detailed explanation of seven basic types of plagiarism. Some types of plagiarism may be referred to as “academic misconduct.” Understanding what plagiarism really is can help you avoid it.

Types of Plagiarism

  • Submitting another person’s writing
    • It is plagiarism to submit another person’s writing as if it were your own writing.
  • Submitting a paper you have already written
    • It is plagiarism if you submit a paper that you previously wrote for a different class, or even the same class if you are taking the class again.
  • Paying another person to write your paper
    • It is plagiarism if you pay another person or company to write a paper that you submit as your own.
  • Patch Writing  or copying phrases from various sources
    • It is plagiarism if you use patchwriting, which means copying phrases from various sources and using them in your work.
  • Not using quotation marks around quoted material
    • It is plagiarism if you do not use quotation marks around the text that you quote directly.
  • Failing to cite sources
    • It is plagiarism if you fail to cite your sources. When you use someone’s ideas, even when you have changed the words, you must still cite the source. If you do not include the source, you may be accused of plagiarism.
  • Copying a picture or other media file
    • It is plagiarism if you copy a picture or other media, such as videos or sound files, without crediting your source.


Plagiarism is Serious!

In the United States, any form of plagiarism is considered to be a dishonest and serious offense. The author of any writing is considered to “own” those words.

So to use another person’s words, ideas, or analysis may be seen as a form of stealing.

But in my country . . .

If you are not from the United States, American attitudes about plagiarism may be new to you.

In some cultures, to use the words of others is a sign of honor and respect. In your country, the ownership of words may not be as important as it is in the U.S., where high value is given to using your own words. As a result, some actions that are considered “plagiarism” in the U.S. may be acceptable in your country.

Even though your instructors here may understand and respect your culture, they will judge your work by American standards. They will not tolerate plagiarism. Serious actions may be taken if you plagiarize.

Don’t American students plagiarize?

Yes, sometimes they do! In fact, plagiarism is a serious problem in American colleges and universities. When plagiarism is discovered, they get into serious trouble.

Why do students plagiarize?

  • Sometimes, they are just dishonest.
  • Sometimes, they don’t plan for enough time to do their own writing.
  • Sometimes, they don’t know how to cite their sources correctly.
  • Sometimes, they don’t know how to paraphrase or summarize.


The Consequences of Plagiarism

If you plagiarize, several things could happen. The presentation below will take you through some of the consequences of plagiarism.

Glendale Community College has some specific consequences, as does your teacher.  You can check your syllabus for the exact consequences of plagiarism in your class, and you can look at the Student Handbook for the college level consequences.

How to Cite Sources

Direct Quotations

When you use the exact words of someone else in your paper, this is known as a verbatim quote.  The words must be put inside quotation marks, and the source must be cited.


Example:“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” (Wilde, 1892).


NOTE: Direct quotations should be used sparingly.  No more than 10% of your paper should be made up of direct quotations.  When you want to use the idea but not the exact words, then use a paraphrase or summary.

Method of Citation

The citation may be made as an in-text citation, a footnote, or an endnote.


Example of in-text citation:
According to Levy (1997), the tutor-tool framework is useful.Example of footnote or endnote:
According to Levy, the tutor-tool framework is useful. 1Bottom of page or chapter:
1Michael Levy, Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization (New York: Oxford), 178. 


NOTE: In all cases, the source must also be included in the list of references at the end of your paper.

Style of Citation

The basic style guides are

  • Modern Language Association (MLA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Chicago Manual of Style
IMPORTANT: Ask your teacher which style to follow for their course. In English 102, we use APA.  Please check out the chapter on APA for more information.

Try it Out

After completing this activity, you may download or print a completion report that summarizes your results.

Common Knowledge & Plagiarism

If information is very well known to most people, it may be considered “common knowledge,” and it does not need to be cited.

Examples of common knowledge:

  • January is the first month of the year.
  • Tokyo is the capital of Japan.
  • The earth revolves around the sun.
  • Soccer, or futbol, is a popular sport worldwide.
  • Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.
  • The Eifel Tower is located in Paris.
  • Facebook is a social media network.
  • An equilateral triangle is a triangle with three equal sides.
  • The sun sets in the west.
  • The Titanic was a ship that sank on its first voyage.



It is not always clear what “common knowledge” is.  If the information is found in general references and if most people know it, it may be considered common knowledge.

However, what is commonly known in one field may not be known by the general public.

NOTE: If you aren’t sure if something can be considered common knowledge, it is always safer to cite it.

Try It Out

After completing this activity, you may download or print a completion report that summarizes your results.

Paraphrasing & Plagiarism

When you paraphrase, you say something in different words. The length of your paraphrased text will be approximately the same as the original.

Original Example:

“Hand gestures, like other forms of nonverbal communication, can change the meaning of our words as well as carry meanings totally by themselves.  Unless we understand the meanings attached to certain hand gestures in the different cultures, we are likely to send and receive unintended messages when dealing with people from other cultures. When two ordinary citizens from two different cultures miscommunicate through hand gestures, the result can be embarrassment or hard feelings” (Ferraro, 2001).


Paraphrased Example:

Both body language and words are used to convey meaning.  Movements such as hand gestures can alter the meaning of spoken words, or be used alone to convey meaning.  If we don’t understand the meaning a person from another culture intends to convey through his hand gestures, and if that person doesn’t understand the meaning of ours, there’s a good chance we’ll misunderstand each other and feel ill at ease or possibly offended (Ferraro, 2001).

Ferraro, Gary. (2001). Cultural anthropology: An applied perspective (4th ed.). Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
IMPORTANT: When you paraphrase, you still must cite the source of the information or idea. If you do not, you may be guilty of plagiarism.

Try It Out

After completing this activity, you may download or print a completion report that summarizes your results.

Summarizing & Plagiarism

When you summarize, you use different words and state the main idea of a passage. In the presentation below, you’ll see some sample summaries to help you gain a better understanding of how to write an effective summary of a passage.

Note-Taking & Plagiarism

Watch the presentation below to learn more about note-taking and how to avoid plagiarism!

Check Your Understanding of Plagiarism

After completing this activity, you may download or print a completion report that summarizes your results.

Plagiarism: Additional Resources

For more information about plagiarism and what you can do to avoid it, check out some of these helpful resources.

The first resource is an interactive site providing definitions related to plagiarism and tips on how you can avoid it.

The following videos provide helpful information related to plagiarism from unique angles.

What Is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It

BrockLibrary. (2014, September 2). What is plagiarism and how to avoid it. [Video]. YouTube.

Stop, Thief!  Avoiding Plagiarism by Paraphrasing

Nimsakont, E. (2008, February 18). Stop, thief! Avoiding plagiarism by paraphrasing. [Video]. YouTube.







Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

English 102: Journey Into Open Copyright © 2021 by Christine Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book