What is Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?The heart of academic scholarship is a notion that each piece of writing is original. The point of your essay is to contribute something to the field. Your citation style (e.g. MLA, APA, or Chicago) is more than an exercise in proper formatting, it’s a reminder of the fact that you’re responding to and commenting on literature from a specific part of the academic world, becoming involved in a certain field of academic discourse.

It can be tempting, when you’re faced with a pressing deadline, to skimp on the citations, knowing that your grading professor has read the same sources you have and will know where your facts and opinions come from.

It’s even tempting to skimp on the actual ideas, when the deadline’s really pressing (and you maybe haven’t paid close enough attention in class to write the essay yourself). Is it really so bad to pay someone else to write your essay for you? Is it really so bad to copy and paste bits of essays you’ve found elsewhere?


Plagiarizing is pretty much the worst thing you can do. It’s dishonest and lazy. It robs you of the mental exercise that essay-writing is supposed to be. When you plagiarize, you alienate yourself from the academic conversation you’re meant to be engaging in while you write your essay. You’re robbing your essay-reader of the opportunity to read your ideas and understand where they’re coming from, where they fit in the larger conversation.

The scariest thing about plagiarism? You can plagiarize without even realizing you’re plagiarizing. You can be guilty of plagiarism even when you’ve done your own research, reached your own conclusions, written your own paper. Un-cited sources can be construed as plagiarized sources. And being accused of plagiarism can lead to more than failing grades; plagiarists are ostracized and excluded from the academic community.

This danger is why every editor at Wordsmith Essays includes detailed feedback on each essay submission. It’s why we include a copy of your essay with Microsoft Word’s Track Changes turned on, so you can see what we changed along with our feedback on why we made changes and why. As professional editors, we’re not writing for you—we’re helping you fix your grammar, your formatting, and your citations. We’re helping you clear up your verbal clutter so your thoughts are communicated as clearly as possible. We want the work to remain your own, only better.

Every academic institution has its own policy on academic honesty, and many professors will happily point you in the direction of their class’s (or their university’s) specific wording in regards to how they define and punish plagiarism.

But you’re probably in a hurry, so here are four quick and dirty tips for how to avoid plagiarism:

Cite everything that is not common knowledge.

It’s better to over-cite than under-cite. Cite every single sentence that contains non-obvious information. When in doubt, cite.

If it’s not your original idea, cite whose it is.

Regurgitating a perspective your professor fed you in a lecture? You should cite that lecture. Hopefully, you go somewhere original with that perspective and won’t have to cite subsequent analysis. But if the analysis is someone else’s, cite it. Even if you’re not trying to take credit for other people’s ideas, that is effectively what you’re doing when you don’t cite those people after mentioning their ideas.

If it’s not your phrasing, quote it.

If you use more than four words in a row from another person’s text, that phrase needs to go in quotation marks and be attributed to the original author. Don’t take credit for someone else’s phrasing, even if it’s short. Especially if it’s short. Being succinct is a talent, and you should give that author credit for her eloquence.

I’m not trying to scare you or anything, but plagiarism is a big deal. If you’re not going to do the work for a course, fail with integrity rather than plagiarize and disgrace yourself. Remember that there are plenty of resources out there to help you if you’re worried about proper citation: from university writing centers and professors’ office hours to always-accessible online resources (like university websites and—not to toot my own horn or anything—professional editing services, whose editors can be so passionate about issues of proper citation that they make little anti-plagiarism blogs for you to read even if you don’t want to pay for their editing services).

Use these handy tools and references to help.

Type your article or book title into Google Scholar. When you find your article, click the blue “cite” link and then copy and paste the correct (MLA, APA, etc) citation for your Works Cited or References section.

Use EasyBib to create citations for works that you can’t find on Google Scholar. EasyBib’s simple form will help you format your citations correctly every time.

Go to the Purdue Owl references section for a complete guide on how to do in-text citations in MLA, APA, or Chicago Style.

photo credit: glenmbaker via photopin cc


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