Plagiarism: Overview

Plagiarism is a serious offense. This guide provides practical advice on how to avoid it.

What's Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without giving them proper credit.

Plagiarism can be unintentional, such as forgetting to cite your sources in a paper or using an image without giving the creator credit, or intentional, such as buying a paper or using someone else's ideas and passing them off as your own.

Plagiarism is a serious problem, both in academia and in professional settings.


Madison College's Policy

According to the Madison College Academic Integrity webpage, students who plagiarize will be disciplined according to the 10 disciplinary sanctions for academic misconduct listed on the webpage.  This could be anything from an oral reprimand to suspension from the institution.  The procedures for allegations and appeals also appear on this page. Visit the college's Academic Integrity page for more information.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

Two ways to use someone's ideas are quoting or word-for-word, and paraphrasing, or rewording. Either way, give the original author credit for their idea.


When using someone's idea word-for-word, introduce it either before or after the quote, and put their words in quotations. Then, give the author credit directly after the sentence using the appropriate citation style.

As Charles Dickens famously wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", which it most certainly was for all of us in that fateful summer (1).


The source must also be included at the end of the paper in a list of Works Cited, such as this one below which is following the rules of the MLA style. 

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Cutchogue, N.Y: Buccaneer Books, 1987. Print.



When you take someone's ideas and reword them using your own vocabulary, you still need to give the original author credit

In his new book, Undeniable, Bill Nye cited a 9,550 year old tree to dispute the claims that the Earth is only 6,000 years old (13).


As when quoting, the source must be included at the end of the paper in a list of Works Cited, such as this one below which is following the rules of the MLA style. 

Nye, Bill, and Corey S. Powell. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. 2014. Print.



Best Practices

Avoiding plagiarism best practices - organize your research from the start

Organize your research from the start

  • Write your notes as if you are writing a paper. Make note of author and page number whenever quoting or paraphrasing, and include a full citation at the end of your notes for each reading.
  • Citation management tools such as Zotero or pasting citations for your sources into a Word document are good ways to track your work.

Avoiding plagiarism - cite your sources and format your citations

Cite your sources and format your citations

  • Creating citations as you write your paper can be a good way to avoid accidentally plagiarizing sources by failing to cite them. Double check your citations are formatted correctly. The Madison College Citation Guide has some great resources. 

Avoiding plagiarism - turn in your own work

Turn in your own work

  • Never turn in work you have not written yourself. Madison College's Academic Integrity policy prohibits such actions, and turning in work that is not your own also has serious consequences in the corporate world.

Avoiding plagiarism - acknowledge the work of others

Acknowledge the work of others

  • When turning in group projects make sure you properly identify who created which parts. Look closely at assignments to see if it allows for group work or if the work needs to be yours alone. 

Avoiding plagiarism - ask an expert

Ask an expert

Common Knowledge

The exception to citing sources is when something is considered common knowledge. But what does that mean?

Common knowledge is information that the average reader would know and accept as reliable without having to look it up.

This includes:

  • information most people know, such as that there are four seasons in a year, or that Barack Obama was the first American of mixed race to be elected president
  • information shared by a cultural or national group, such as national holidays or the names of cultural heroes
  • knowledge shared by members of a certain field, such as the assertion that frequent nurse handwashing reduces the spread of infection in hospitals.

 Because of this, common knowledge is contextual - what may be common knowledge in a certain culture or field might not be elsewhere. 

How do you know if something is common knowledge? Consider:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What can you assume they already know?
  • Will you be asked where you obtained this information?

Common Knowledge. (n.d.). Academic Integrity at MIT.

Guide Attribution

Portions of this guide created and developed by Robin Gee, University of Wisconsin - Madison iSchool Practicum student