What Is Plagiarism, and How Do You Avoid It?

Most people, from students to professionals, have been taught to avoid plagiarism. It’s common knowledge that you should turn in your own work, not someone else’s. Still, a lot of people don’t know about the different types of plagiarism that exist. If you don’t know that something is illegal or against the rules, it can be hard to avoid doing it! 

In this article, we’ve provided a list of a few different forms of plagiarism. By learning about these different hazards, you should be able to avoid them in the future. After describing the common types of plagiarism, we’ll move on to showing the serious consequences people face for literary theft, as well as other forms of intellectual property theft. 

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Direct Plagiarism

When most people think about “stealing” someone else’s work, this is what they imagine. Direct plagiarism might involve copying someone else’s text word-for-word without quotation marks. Even if you include a citation, you must be sure to also include quotation marks for any phrases that you borrow directly. When you don’t, you’re guilty of direct plagiarism. 

As a possible exception to this rule, sometimes poets or creative writers borrow from well-known sources, such as Shakespeare or the Bible. It’s not uncommon for a turn of phrase to be used and reused over time, especially if it has become a common idiom. As an example, “green-eyed monster,” “wild-goose chase,” and “apple of my eye,” are all common idioms that originally came from Shakespearean plays, according to the Kaplan International Blog

In poetry, a reference to another work is called an allusion. When in doubt, if you’re writing anything other than poetry, use quotation marks each time you include material from another source. 

Accidental Plagiarism

When it comes to plagiarism, your intentions don’t matter. Even if you didn’t mean to borrow from the original source, if you lean too heavily on the work of others, you can be penalized. Accidental plagiarism occurs when you’re paraphrasing from memory without citing a source and you mimic the language of the original work. For instance, you might be writing down quotes and paraphrases on notecards, while you’re researching an academic paper. If you write down your thoughts using the same sentence structure as the original source material, you may accidentally engage in a form of plagiarism. Another way to accidentally plagiarize would be to misquote or misinterpret a source document. 


Self-plagiarism occurs when you borrow from your own work without permission. For example, in an essay, a student may include a paragraph from a research paper he or she wrote for a different class. Unless you’ve received permission from your current professor, this is considered a form of academic dishonesty. 

In the professional world, if you write something for one employer or client and repurpose it for another employer or client, you may end up getting fired or sued. 

According to Science Magazine, “In September 2019, after sifting through 4.3 million Russian-language studies, Antiplagiat found that more than 70,000 were published at least twice; a few were published as many as 17 times.” As a result, Russian academic journals retracted over 800 articles. Self-plagiarism, in both academic writing and the business world, can have serious consequences. 

Mosaic Plagiarism

Mosaic plagiarism happens when someone leans too heavily on the original author’s structure. Although the person copying makes an attempt to replace key words and phrases, they end up keeping the same structure and syntax. Substituting key phrases is important; however, without using quotation marks, you’ll need to completely rewrite the content in your own words in order to properly paraphrase. Even when the original author is cited, improper paraphrasing is a form of plagiarism. 

Intellectual Theft

When you’re creating original work, be sure not to violate copyright law or use someone’s intellectual property without acquiring the proper rights. For instance, stealing research from another academic institution would be a form of intellectual theft. Similarly, displaying images, videos, or music without obtaining the proper rights, violates the rights of artists, filmmakers, and musicians. If you’re looking to include photos in a powerpoint presentation, for instance, be sure to either pay the appropriate fees to the photographer or track down a stock image that does not require a licensing fee to use.

Consequences of Plagiarizing

Here are a few recent news items that might discourage you from plagiarizing:

“Michigan State University Museum Director Mark Auslander will serve a month-long suspension after a committee found he committed plagiarism and research misconduct in work to repatriate a mummy.”
—Lansing State Journal

“An applicant for the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office withdrew from consideration minutes after he was caught plagiarizing large swaths of his application to replace Paul Petersen, who resigned in early January.” 
—Arizona Capitol Times

“Motorola Solutions, Inc. MSI has won a landmark trial against the manufacturer of radio transceivers, Hytera Communications Corporation, over charges of copyright infringement and hiring in-house engineers to steal vital trade secrets to exploit two-way radio technology . . . Criticizing Hytera’s action as unethical and illegitimate, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted Motorola a whopping compensation of $764.6 million.”
—Yahoo! Finance

“Recently, Lizzo was accused of plagiarism over her hit song ‘Truth Hurts.’ Now, she faces a claim of plagiarism over her song ‘Juice.”

“An Army deputy chief of staff has been retired at a lower rank after a watchdog investigation found he had plagiarized work for his master’s degree at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania as a lieutenant colonel, Military.com has learned.”


  1. https://www.bowdoin.edu/dean-of-students/judicial-board/academic-honesty-and-plagiarism/common-types-of-plagiarism.html
  2. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/russian-journals-retract-more-800-papers-after-bombshell-investigation
  3. https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/2020/02/24/msu-michigan-state-university-museum-director-suspended/4858000002/
  4. https://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2020/01/31/candidate-for-assessor-job-withdraws-after-plagiarism-discovery/
  5. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/motorola-triumphs-over-hytera-copyright-143902323.html
  6. https://pitchfork.com/news/lizzo-accused-of-plagiarism-over-juice/
  7. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/12/11/army-3-star-general-loses-rank-after-war-college-plagiarism-revealed.html