5 5.2 Plagiarism

Plagiarism is defined as using someone else’s words, ideas or other creative works and failing to give credit to that person. Academic institutions have very strict guidelines for how people who commit plagiarism are disciplined. To avoid plagiarizing, you need to know how to do your own research, document your process, and properly cite your sources.

Why cite sources?

In this course, we’ve talked about scholarship as a conversation. Think of research you produce as entering a conversation in progress.[1] You listen to and acknowledge what has been said before, and you have something of your own to add to the mix. Your contribution should acknowledge what others have learned and said before you, but for your contribution to be original, it should be a new twist on what has gone before – not just a repeat of what has already been said.

Keep in mind that you are not going to find just one article or book that is exactly what you need to prepare your paper or presentation. You will need to read several sources – analyzing and synthesizing to generate your own part in the conversation. By crediting those who have come before you, you also lend credibility to your argument. If a researcher has done work that proves or documents something in a subject area, by citing that scholar you are using their authority to support your claims. This is one of the prime reasons for citing sources.


Did you know it’s possible to plagiarize yourself?  Self-plagiarism involves unacknowledged recycling of your own past work, perhaps work you have completed for a different class. Scholarly disciplines have differing attitudes toward this kind of recycling, ranging from tolerance in very specific situations to absolutely forbidding it in all cases.

If the primary aim of the scholarly conversation is to further ideas and scholarly knowledge, then recycling word-for-word what you have already said or written elsewhere, even if it is to a new audience, doesn’t exactly accomplish that goal. It can be considered unethical if you do not cite the original source and do not disclose that you are reusing your own work.

Before you resubmit work or assignments you have completed for a different course or purpose, you should always first discuss with your instructor whether it is permitted to recycle your own work like this, whether in part or in its entirety.

What you need to cite

When we use another person’s words from an article or book, we need to put those words in quotations and give a citation indicating where those words came from. However, there are other types of resources that also need to be cited that you may not have considered. You need to provide citation information for things such as:

  • images, websites, and podcasts
  • personal communications, including interviews and emails
  • equations, graphics, tables, and charts
  • TV programs, movies, songs, and speeches
  • and more!

Anything you use as source material in your research must be cited in your work or you have committed plagiarism. Citing these sources in your work takes some time and effort, but crediting others through citing is an essential component of ethical research.

  1. The metaphor of scholarship as a conversation can be traced back to Kenneth Burke's The Philosophy of Literary Form, published in 1941 by the University of California Press, Berkeley.


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