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VCCS Copyright Guide: Plagiarism

Thanks to Piedmont Community College for allowing the use of their libguide as the foundation for this libguide.

Types of Plagiarism

There are two main types of plagiarism:

  • intentional, which is when a person deliberately passes the works of others as their own; and
  • unintentional, when a person plagiarizes without realizing this is what they are doing.

Even if you plagiarize unintentionally, you may still get in trouble. Some schools and/or instructors discount unintentional plagiarism, because they expect students to educate themselves about the topic prior to writing essays.

Some forms of intentional plagiarism are:

  • Copying a text and then pasting it onto your paper
  • Copying a text and then changing some words but maintaining the structure of the passage
  • Getting someone else to write the paper for you
  • Buying and/or downloading a paper online
  • Using one of your old papers again
  • Using the wrong citations to hide plagiarism
  • Neglecting to cite sources you have copied from
  • Creating fake citations

Some forms of unintentional plagiarism are:

  • Forgetting to use quotation marks for direct quotes
  • Changing some words in a passage but leaving the structure and ideas intact 
  • Forgetting to have a Works Cited or References page
  • Creating an essay or paper that is just a string of quotes without any of your ideas
  • Reusing your papers or essays from other courses or schools

Strategies to Avoid Plagiarism

Avoiding plagiarism is easy. Just follow these strategies:


Paraphrasing means you are borrowing what someone else wrote, and re-telling it in your own words and sentence structures, while maintaining the spirit of the passage. If you change a few words, or use synonyms, you are not paraphrasing; you are plagiarizing.  See this link to learn more about paraphrasing, and to see examples.  Please remember that when you paraphrase, you still have to credit your sources! 

Cite your sources in a Works Cited or References page

Every source you mention in your essay must be listed on your Works Cited (MLA) or References (APA) page. Please refer to this guide to see how to cite your sources, or ask a librarian.

Cite your sources in the body of your essay

Besides putting your sources in your Works Cited/Reference list, you must also credit them within the body of your essay or paper, either within sentences or in parentheses at the end of sentences. Please see the library's citation guide to see how to do parenthetical or in-text citations, or see a librarian. 

If you used sources you are not citing, place them in a Works Consulted page

A Works Consulted page lets your reader/instructor know you have consulted some sources that you are not mentioning in the body of your paper. For example, encyclopedias, handbooks, or textbooks are not normally used as citable sources, but they are useful as background information for topics. If you have used those and would like people to know you have, you can place them on the Works Consulted list. If you in any way use these sources in your essay, then they become works cited and must be placed on the corresponding list. 

Common Knowledge

Not every single thing in your paper needs to be documented. Common knowledge is something you do not need to attribute to a source. But what is common knowledge? It is something everyone (or at least the majority of people) know or accept. 

  • Things you can assume almost everyone knows:  A lot of films are made in Hollywood. Japan is an island. Most dogs shed.
  • Common sayings: Ignorance is bliss.
  • Things that can be easily verified: George Washington was born in 1732. (You may not know when he was born exactly, but this fact is easily found and verified.) 


  • When you are writing for specific disciplines (for example, nursing, history, psychology), there are some things that are common knowledge for those disciplines that you may not need to document. 
  • When you quote someone's words, you must credit the source, even if the words refer to something that is common knowledge. For example, of someone writes "George Washington, the first president of the United States, was also one of the Founding Fathers," and you use the same exact words, you have to credit the author of those words.

Strategies to Detect and to Prevent Plagiarism for Faculty

Detecting Plagiarism

Software to detect plagiarism (Turnitin, SafeAssign, etc.) do not and cannot take the place of expertise, experience, and common sense. These software packages many times miss a lot of plagiarism that could have been easily discovered by a human being. Here are some strategies to detect plagiarism:

  • Pay attention to writing style.  If grammar, syntax, word usage, etc., do not sound like they could come from your student, they probably haven't.
  • Get to know your students' writing "voice." Plagiarized materials will jump at you as being written in a different voice.
  • Notice the flow of the essay: plagiarized papers generally tend to seem choppy, with changes in style, tense, structure, etc.
  • The student includes ideas that she/he is not likely to be familiar with.
  • The work contains references to materials that are very difficult to access or that are no longer available.
  • The work contains citations that are mangled, incomplete, or inaccurate.

[Source: Cizek, G.J. (2003).Detecting and preventing classroom cheating. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.]

Preventing Plagiarism

  • There are several strategies that can be employed to prevent plagiarism and the whole wave of unpleasantness it can unleash. 
  • Educate yourself about plagiarism, about the whys and the hows.
  • Educate your students about it; show what the consequences can be and what plagiarism says about character.
  • Show your students why we cite sources and what the scholarly value of this practice is.
  • Be clear about expectations and about penalties.

Some practical strategies:

  • Instead of asking  students to write a References/Works Cited, ask them to create an annotated bibliography.
  • Ask students to attach copies of all their sources.
  • Ask students to prepare a synopsis or abstract of every cited source.
  • Assign some of the sources the students must use for their papers.
  • Use more in-class writing.
  • Include a research journal with assignments. Students could write about their research process, including how and where sources were found and why they were chosen.
  • Require that papers be shorter than six pages, to teach students to be concise and to the point.
  • Require oral presentations of all or part of the assignment, including oral summaries and analysis of sources, and require students to answer questions and defend their arguments.

[Source: Lathrop, A., & Foss, K. (Eds.). (2005). Guiding students from cheating and plagiarism to honesty and integrity. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.]

Plagiarism Videos

Understanding Plagiarism from York St John University

Plagiarism: How to avoid it from Bainbridge State College