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American culture recognizes each individual's written and verbal ideas to be legal property. Thus, borrowing words or ideas from another individual without crediting them is considered stealing, not a compliment or a sign of respect. "Stealing" in the academic world is called academic dishonesty, or plagiarism. Miami University defines plagiarism as "quoting or closely paraphrasing the writings of others while leading the reader to believe that you are the author of the text" (quoted by Rentschler Library, Hamilton Campus).

For example, each assignment you write or create is your property and cannot be used by someone else without your permission or without ackowledging you as the original author. By the same token, you cannot claim to author work created by another student, published authors, or those who share content on the internet. Charges of academic dishonesty or plagiarism may carry serious consequences, including failing grades for the assignment or course, and in some cases, suspension.

Plagiarism includes all of the following:

  • Using someone else's ideas or information without acknowledging them or citing them
  • Using someone else's exact words without putting them in quotation marks
  • Using similar grammar and sentence structure to an original source
  • Having someone else write their paper
  • Turning in someone else's paper
  • Turning in a paper written for another class

Plagiarism has three basic types:

  1. Intentional Misrepresentation. When a student deliberately attempts to present another's work as his or her own. This can include copying or paraphrasing someone else's writing without attributing the source, buying a paper online, having someone else write the paper, or "recycling" a paper written previously.
  2. Unintentional Misrepresentation. When a student is not familiar with community citation standards or ways these standards may be different in diverse locations. Students can plagiarize due to uncertainty or lack of knowledge. When in doubt, cite your sources.
  3. Patchwriting. Rebecca Moore Howard (1993) defined "patchwriting" as "copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym substitutes." This type of plagiarism does not always result from dishonesty; sometimes, students are not familiar with the ideas or language they are attempting to incorporate. Nevertheless, using similar sentence structure or grammar to an original source is still considered plagiarism, even if the sources are cited.

You can avoid plagiarism by citing all sources you used for information, quoting any words or phrases that came directly from the original source, summarizing sources, and/or paraphrasing information in your own words.

Citing Sources

All students and scholars are expected to cite and give proper credit to sources they reference. Sources include anything you read or watch for information/ideas:

  • Books, articles, journals, and newspapers
  • Websites
  • Movies, TV, and videos
  • Lectures, PowerPoints, and presentations

Citations let your instructor or reader know where your information came from, which both adds credibility to your research/argument and allows readers to find the source and read it for themselves. To maintain academic integrity, you must cite sources whether you are quoting, summarizing, or paraphrasing.

Each citation style (e.g., MLA, APA, Chicago) has different formatting requirements, so use the style assigned by your instructor or used by your department/field. These requirements are usually described in the citation style manual or on websites, such as the Purdue OWL. Note the different standards for citing authors in APA versus MLA:

APA Style: Cox (2012) questioned the continued popularity of the Titanic.

MLA Style: Stephen D. Cox questions the continued popularity of the Titanic.


Direct quotations are short passages of the original author's exact words, which should be placed inside quotation marks (""). Each direct quotation should serve a purpose to your writing and could be effective in the following cases:

  • The author says something powerful that you cannot easily paraphrase in your own words
  • Rewording/paraphrasing would radically change the argument or lose its effect on readers.
  • Referencing a respected scholar or organization would add credibilty to your argument.
  • Your readers would benefit from an outside example.

All quotations should be introduced, surrounded by quotation marks, cited properly, and followed by your interpretation/explanation of the quote's meaning to your argument. You can quote complete sentences or just a few words:

Stephen D. Cox questions why the sinking of the Titanic continues to resonate whenever disaster strikes: "It is virtually the only disaster that is perpetually remembered, commemorated, and even celebrated. The answer has to do with the drama of choice, not with the brute facts of the disaster itself."


Stephen D. Cox questions why the sinking of the Titanic "is perpetually remembered, commemorated, and even celebrated."

Make sure, however, that direct quotations do not dominate your paper. Using a large number of quotations implies that you did not understand the source or the topic and also takes away from what you as an author have to say.


Summaries discuss the source as a whole, from beginning to end, in your own words. You summarize by reading a source and then recalling the information in your own words for someone who has never read it or does not have the time to do so. As such, a summary should mention the following:

  • overall argument, main thesis, or purpose of the work
  • major points and general topics covered
  • any major examples used

Summarize when you want to condense a large amount of information into a couple of sentences, or want to insert your own commentary directly into the summary itself. Consider the following summary of Stephen D. Cox's "Why the Titanic Fascinates More Than Other Disasters."

Stephen D. Cox questions the popularity of the Titanic in his article "Why the Titanic Fascinates More Than Other Disasters." Although the Titanic sank over 100 years ago, recent disasters, such as the Costa Concordia, are still compared to its sinking. The Titanic is also notably more popular than other shipwrecks with great loss of life, such as the Sultana, Lusitania, and Eastland. Cox argues that, unlike other shipwrecks, the Titanic sank slowly enough for passengers to make heroic or cowardly decisions about life and death. He concludes that the only other disaster to be remembered like Titanic is the terrorist attack on September 11, because they both teach us about real acts of heroism and dignity from real people.


Paraphrasing means using your own words to discuss information from a source, rather than quoting them directly. It involves rewording a specific section, fact, or point from one source or connecting similar information or views from multiple sources.

To paraphrase effectively, you must completely restructure and reword the sentence(s). Changing, moving, or omitting a few words from the original sentence or using the same sentence structure, grammar, or word choice does not count as paraphrasing. Effective paraphrasing involves drastically rewording the original information. Keep the following standards in mind:

  • Combine multiple sentences, ideas, or facts into a brand new sentence.
  • Use your own words and sentence structure.
  • Maintain your own writing voice and style.

Consider the following paraphrasing of a sentence from Stephen D. Cox's "Why the Titanic Fascinates More Than Other Disasters."

Original Text: About 1,500 people died that night. None of the rest survive today. But the Titanic disaster has never faded from the world's imagination.

Poor Paraphrase: Around 1,500 people died on the Titanic. All of them have since passed on. However, the Titanic has not yet left our minds (Cox).

Effective Paraphrase: Even after 100 years and the loss of its last survivor, the Titanic is still relevant and remembered with exhibits and museums around the world (Cox; Williams).

The poor paraphrase example above uses the same general sentence structure and information as the original text: both begin with phrases describing the exact number of people who died, followed by the main sentence stating that the Titanic is still popular. The effective paraphrasing example, however, begins by emphasizing the amount of time that has passed since the Titanic's sinking and then describing some ways in which the Titanic is still remembered. This example also uses and combines information from two articles (rather than just one), making it easier to create a sentence that is different from the original.

Additional Examples

Original Paragraph

"Hipster refers to a subculture of young, urban middle-class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, progressive or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism, and alternative lifestyles. Interests in media include independent film, magazines such as Clash, and websites like Pitchfork Media."

Direct Quotation

In recent years, hipster culture has become a topic of popularity. But what is a hipster? According to Farmer, "Hipster refers to a subculture of young, urban middle-class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, progressive or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism, and alternative lifestyles" (108). Thus, hipster culture seems to be associated with living outside of the mainstream.


Hipsters are a group of younger individuals that try to draw inspiration from different eras, mostly in an attempt to appear different from the dominant society (Farmer 108).


First coming about in the 1990s, hipsters belong to a subculture of financially stable 18-40 year olds. Some indications of the culture include indie music, a lack of organized religion, and other alternative ideas. Some media outlets that correspond to the movement include Clash and indie films (Farmer 108).

Additional Plagiarism Resources