What Is Plagiarism?


Many new writers wonder "What is Plagiarism?" Plagiarism is a freelance writer's worst nightmare. Being accused of stealing someone else's words or ideas is a surefire recipe for killing a writing career. Rather than worry whether or not you've used someone's words correctly, take the time to understand conventional and web-based plagiarism so you can avoid it.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined by Roget's Dictionary as: "The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own work."

Simply put, plagiarism is copying work that is written by someone else and passing it off as your own, either directly or indirectly. The direct method is to simply copy the text written by another word for word. The indirect method is to paraphrase or restate someone else's writing and pretend that it is your original concept.

When a writer plagiarizes, he or she is committing a crime under United States law. The government considers written text to be intellectual property. By copying the text directly or indirectly, you are stealing intellectual property and using it without the author's consent.

There are stiff penalties for plagiarism. Students can be permanently expelled from school if they are caught plagiarizing. Freelance writers can face fines and up to one year in jail. You may lose your job and risk your future career if you plagiarize.

Rewriting is Plagiarism

One of the reasons that the question "What is Plagiarism?" is so hard to answer for some people is that plagiarism goes far beyond what many people assume it is. The basic understanding of plagiarism is that it is the word for word copying of someone else's text.

However, rewriting someone else's words is also considered plagiarism. For example, the original sentence "Studies show that petting cats can help reduce stress" is read in a magazine. The plagiarizing writer includes the sentence "Medical studies proved that one can reduce stress by petting cats" in his article.

Even though the words are different in the new sentence, it is still consider plagiarism. The concept is the same and the writer did not cite the original source. The second sentence would pass through an Internet plagiarism checker, but it would still be considered plagiarism without a proper citation.

Common Forms of Plagiarism

With the increased popularity of the Internet, plagiarism has become a big issue. There is so much information available on the Internet it has become tempting for writers and students to copy the work of someone else and use it as their own. All universities and colleges have had to adopt strict plagiarism policies in order to keep student plagiarism at a minimum.

Plagiarism takes many different forms in the university system and the world of freelance writing. Here are some of the most common forms of intellectual property theft.

  • Tweaking sentences so they appear to be different but represent the same ideas
  • Presenting work as your own that should be cited, like results from studies
  • Patching together the content from several different sources without changing the sentence structure
  • Copying work from yourself and rewriting it for a separate writing assignment

See Plagiarism.org for more on different types of plagiarism.

Avoiding Plagiarism

The best way to avoid plagiarism is to make sure that you are offering a fresh perspective on the topic and write without copying words or ideas. If you need to support your points with information from other sources, be sure to cite properly. You can find more information on proper citations at Plagiarism.org.

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