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5 Rules About Plagiarism You Can't Ignore

If you have ever used someone else's work as your own -- even a little bit -- you have plagiarized. Learn the pitfalls of plagiarism and how to avoid doing it.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Education
  • Student Tips
5 Rules About Plagiarism You Can't Ignore

If you have ever used someone else's work as your own -- even a little bit -- you have plagiarized.

In the age of 'cut and paste,' plagiarism runs rampant across US colleges and universities. Among those most susceptible? International students. And it is not because their peers do it less. Some studies suggest that they are more than twice as likely to be caught than their American counterparts.

Why? Language and cultural issues.

According to an article on the Voice of America website, University of Virginia economics professor David Mills said, "In the case of plagiarism, one factor is that it concerns written material. International students are often not native English speakers. Their skills and comfort in using the English language may be more limited."

Currently, over half the international student population in the US hails from India and China, many of whom do not fully understand plagiarism or its consequences. There is a fundamental misunderstanding or lack of understanding within some international student communities that plagiarism is not ok.

Many universities across the country have initiated writing centers, mandatory workshops, writing seminars, and other resources for all students, but especially international students who may need the extra information and guidance.

How can all students avoid plagiarism? Rule #1: don't do it. Here is a refresher course for those who need it:

1. Know what plagiarism is

Bottom line: plagiarism is passing off someone else's written or spoken work or ideas and passing them off as your own.

Don't do it.

Quoting and paraphrasing is not plagiarism, provided you cite your sources correctly...

2. Cite properly

If you follow the documentation and formatting guidelines specified by your institution, you should be able to avoid plagiarism. There are numerous resources online and in your library, so you can master APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style formatting.

It is as simple as documenting the author of the work you used, the work itself, and the date you accessed it, all according to specific instructions.

Purdue University's online writing lab, or OWL, offers great resources for all students who need to help with citations. With introductions to each citation style, exercises, and free online workshops, you can find the resources you need to succeed with citations.

Need some more help? Check out and, among others, to get a jumpstart on citation guidelines.

Another useful resource is your campus library. Schedule an appointment with a reference librarian and treat yourself to a citation spa.

3. More than two words taken from one text? Bring in quotation marks

When you quote a source, quote it exactly as it appears in the text you are quoting, following your institution's citation guidelines.

A practiced scholar can paraphrase elegantly and effectively. It is not easy to do, but practice makes pretty (close to) perfect. Keep at it and you will get there...oh, and remember to cite paraphrased work!

4. Common knowledge exemption

You do not need to cite things that are considered common knowledge, like the days of the week, state capitals, or the phases of the moon.

You do need to cite information that offers analyses on any of these commonly known things if the analyses are not yours. Data on the phases of the moon for the last decade is not common knowledge. Cite it.

You cannot go wrong citing. When in doubt on the "common knowledge" question, cite.

5. Self-plagiarism: it is a thing

Ever copy and paste something from an old paper into a new one? Yup. You have just self-plagiarized.

You need to cite yourself. Your courses -- and your mind -- should be wide and varied enough that you do not need to copy and reproduce the same idea more than once.

New ideas. New research. Think for yourself. Cite when you don't. Period.

Learn more about journalism and commuications studies.