What Is Academic Plagiarism (And How Can You Avoid It)?

Writing a research paper is a demanding task for many reasons. As a researcher, you have to gather information about your topic from reputable sources to provide your audience with a solid, reliable background. Research is a bit like building a pyramid. The work of the researchers who came before you provides a foundation, and you work hard to add your own building blocks to the structure. Your building blocks in turn become the foundation for the researchers who follow after you.
Just as important as building upon the work of other researchers is acknowledging their contributions. Nobody likes to have someone else take credit for their hard work. This is one of the reasons that academic plagiarism is such a major issue in academia and research. Academic plagiarism—or pretending someone else’s writing or research is yours—is a serious offense and a serious problem in the community. But how do you know if your writing meets the criteria to be considered plagiarism? How can you explain someone else’s argument or work without committing plagiarism? In this article, we will talk about different types of academic plagiarism, why it is such a serious offense, and discuss strategies to make sure that you avoid committing academic plagiarism at all costs.

What Is Academic Plagiarism?

Academic plagiarism is the act of passing off someone else’s work as your own. Why is plagiarism considered such a serious issue? Simply put, academic plagiarism is a type of theft, like stealing money or valuables. While plagiarism is not a crime, it is wrong regardless of whether or not it is committed on purpose. In fact, in the majority of places, it is a serious offense that can be worthy of expulsion or suspension from your academic institution. Even people who perform notable work later in their careers frequently suffer professional consequences if they are caught having committed plagiarism earlier on in their lives.
But how do you know if you have committed plagiarism or not? Many students or researchers find themselves wondering how they can be certain that their writing meets the criteria for originality. First, let’s examine the types of plagiarism, and then look at some different strategies for avoiding or preventing academic plagiarism in your own work.

Types of Academic Plagiarism

When we think of “stealing someone else’s work,” we often think of simply copy-pasting text from a source into our paper and failing to properly cite that someone else wrote it. This type of plagiarism, also known as direct plagiarism, is indeed a problem. However, it is not the only way to commit plagiarism. Let’s look at different examples of academic plagiarism below, and some strategies to fix these types of plagiarism if you find them in your writing.

Type of Plagiarism

What Does it Look Like?

How to Fix it

Direct or verbatim plagiarism
  • Copying lines or blocks of text from another work verbatim with no attempt to acknowledge the source. 
  • The writer takes the work of another source word-for-word, or nearly so. 
  • Deleting a few words or sentences from the text does not fix the problem.
  • Enclose the text that was copied in quotation marks and include the original source in your citations.  
  • Paraphrase the ideas in your own words and include the original source in your citations or in the body of the text.
Insufficient citationCopying lines or blocks of text from another work with quotation marks, but no reference to the original source. 
  • Include the bibliographic information about the original source in a footnote or endnote.
  • The author, title, and date should all be included.
Summarizing without citationParaphrasing ideas or information from another source without acknowledging the source
  • Include the bibliographic information about the original source in a footnote or endnote.
  • Or, include the original source in the body of your text (“According to Harvey Pekar in the book ‘Comics for Dummies’...).
Summarizing with insufficient citationParaphrasing ideas or information from another source without sufficiently acknowledging the source
  • Include the bibliographic information about the original source in a footnote or endnote
  • The author, title, and date should all be included.
  • Or, include the original source in the body of your text (“According to Harvey Pekar in the book ‘Comics for Dummies’...).
Patchwork or mosaic plagiarism
  • Ideas or information from multiple other sources are copied or paraphrased and rearranged without acknowledging the original sources
  • The writer’s own ideas or words may be incorporated. 
  • Unlike direct plagiarism, the author attempts to rearrange the original material so that it is not identical to the source text.
Acknowledge each source that the ideas in your paper came from (author, title, date), and use direct quotation marks around text taken from other sources or paraphrase the ideas into your own words. 
Self-plagiarism
  • Ideas or information from another paper or article you have written are included without proper attribution
  • For example, if you are assigned a paper about crime in America for history class, and you wrote about the same topic last year, self-plagiarism would be recycling your old work for the new class.
  • Acknowledge ideas or quotations that came from your own prior work exactly the same way that you would acknowledge ideas or quotations from someone else’s work.
  •  Include the author name (your own), title, and date of the publication along with any other relevant details in your text, a footnote, or the bibliography.
Misidentifying common knowledgeYou include a piece of information in your writing without citing the source because you believe it is common knowledge
  • Include the bibliographic information about the original source in a footnote or endnote
  • The author, title, and date should all be included. 
  • If you are in doubt whether a piece of information is considered common knowledge or not, err on the side of including a source.

As we can see in the table above, the biggest issue that leads to plagiarism is failing to properly cite source material. If you are a researcher or student, you should always make sure to keep track of your sources and notes, whether through a reference manager program or your own system. This way, you will be able to see where you obtained your information and quickly check whether or not you have plagiarized a piece of writing. If you are not sure whether you should cite a source, cite the source!

How Can I Check Whether I Have Committed Plagiarism?

Of course, you can carefully read your own paper and compare it with your notes to see whether or not you have committed plagiarism, accidentally or deliberately. But just like it is difficult to edit your own work, it can be difficult to clearly identify academic plagiarism in your own writing because you are overly familiar with both the topic and what you intend to say. 

Fortunately, modern technology can easily help you with this problem. Academic plagiarism checkers are now readily available online. You can use a plagiarism checker like the one offered by Enago to see if your paper includes any types of plagiarism. Enago's Plagiarism Checker, in partnership with Turnitin, uses the most sophisticated algorithms to detect plagiarism against 91+ billion current and archived web pages. Inclusion of Scholarly Articles check allows easy comparison against additional 82+ million open source and paywalled scholarly articles from 1,700+ publishers. It also provides an automated grammar check for your document in track changes to improve your writing quality.. By using an online academic plagiarism checker before you submit an assignment to your professor or an article to an academic journal, you can correct any misattributions or missed citations. Using an online academic plagiarism checker can not only save your time and effort, but also save your career and academic future. Don’t get caught plagiarizing - use an online academic plagiarism checker today.