What Is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It

Haven’t we all copied our friend’s homework when we were in school? Well, those were innocent days where we’d get away with a mere day of detention and a letter to the parent. Was that plagiarism?

What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism put in simple words, is an act of fraud, a form of cheating where some other person’s work is replicated (either wholly or partially) without consenting and without crediting that person.  It’s a serious offence and cannot be disguised by mere terms like “copying”, “borrowing” or justified by claims that it was done “unknowingly”. Negligence or lack of knowledge is never an excuse and will be subject to serious repercussions. Hence, you must never use someone else’s work without acknowledging that it’s not yours.

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How Do We Avoid Plagiarism?

Where there’s content, there’s a threat of plagiarism attached to it. Plagiarism can occur when you’re writing research papers, news articles, white papers, college essays, presentations, using images and even while developing computer software.

There are certain websites that give away their content for free, or with a nominal charge to help others use and build on it. They are known as public domain. But the meaty chunk of your research paper is generally based on valuable information gathered and put out by experts in the subject, and protected by copyrights. So, how can you legally use such copyrighted material without plagiarizing it?

Understand Copyrights

Copyright law protects literary works, paintings, photographs, sculptures, music, videos, anything published on the internet unless stated as free to use. But understanding what’s not covered by law can help you with writing your essays and research papers. For instance, works published by the US Government, and its officials as per their duties are not subject to copyright and are public domain.

Also, facts and ideas found in books and journals while reading (like date of birth, historical events, etc.) can be expressed in your own words without a citation to the original source. They are called common knowledge.


Students often do not spare the necessary amount of time to re-phrase a piece of work that fits perfectly into their research. You must read and understand the paper and express it in your own words, and NEVER should you copy-paste the text, as it would be Direct Plagiarism. It’s always safe to cite the source used by you as a reference.

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Citing Your Sources

As mentioned above, common knowledge needs no citation, but other published research must be properly cited as per the guidelines (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.). You must find out the citation rule that your institution follows and accordingly cite the sources. Always check your work as you may have missed out on giving proper citations. Such uncredited works will attract Accidental Plagiarism.

Check Your Work

Negligence is not an excuse (repeating the golden words) to justify plagiarism. It may be possible that while writing your essay, you used the exact same sentences from a copyrighted work. You must check your work with plagiarism checkers before you publish it or send it over to the relevant authority.


No-one likes being misquoted. There may be certain quotes used by the author in an article that are relevant to your article. While using these quotes, you must use them in the exact same way as they appear in the original work.

Citing quotes is different from citing a paraphrased work. You have to mention the date, page number or the paragraph number of the source where it first appeared. Not adhering to these rules will result in Mosaic Plagiarism.

Cite Your Own Work

What? Yes. Citing your own published work that served as a reference for your current research must also be done. Follow the rules and treat your work the same way you would treat other resources while doing your research. This must be done to avoid Self-Plagiarism, which again, is an offence.

There are many false claims, misrepresented facts and outdated information out there on the internet. Before using any such resource for your research, scrutinize the credibility of the author, and their references. Check for the latest and updated information. Remember, plagiarism comes with a hefty price and will ruin your reputation.

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