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Library - Plagiarism and Copyright: What is plagiarism?

Information in this LibGuide is organised to support and guide students in their academic activities.

Plagiarism definition



Question from a student?

What is plagiarism, and why do universities take it so seriously? If the information that I want is readily available in books and the internet, why can’t I just use it as it is in my assignments?

Answer: Put simply, plagiarism amounts to theft: theft of what is referred to as ‘intellectual property’. The information in books, the internet, and various other sources, does not belong to you; it belongs to the writers who created it.
  • You are allowed to use it in essays and other assignments, but you have to acknowledge the fact that it does not belong to you by using your own words and then referencing your sources carefully whenever you use such information.
  • You may also use the information as it is but whenever you do this, you must always place the information in quotation marks and then, once again, cite the source. However, you must quote sparingly so that you do not end up with an essay or assignment which looks like a patchwork quilt! It is easy to avoid plagiarism once you learn how.


Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to "plagiarize" means:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

To avoid Plagiarism you need to learn how to acknowledge the resources (books , articles, etc) in your research project/asssignment.

Why do people plagiarise ?

People plagiarize as a result of the following:

  • Not knowing any better
  • Pressure/competition
  • Lack of confidence
  • Work perceived as too difficult
  • Lack of consequences
  • Lack of interest or laziness
  • Arrogance


What are the consequences of plagiarism?

  • Plagiarism is unethical becuase it is intellectual theft
  • It is in conflict with the UJ Values of trust and academic integrity
  • It shows disrespect for the rights of the original author
  • It tarnishes the Universities reputation, and diminishes the value of your qualifications
  • It casts suspicion on the honest work of the students


How to recognize plagiarism?



Types of plagiarism


Type 1: Copy and Paste Plagiarism or Direct Plagiarism

When you: copy a sentence, phrase, or paragraph word for word, but do not quote your source.

Type 2: Word Switch Plagiarism

When you: rephrase a person's work and insert it into your own work without acknowledging its original source. If you take a sentence from a source and change a few works without acknowledging your source, it is still plagiarism.

This is not paraphrasing. For information on how to correctly paraphrase, see When To Cite.

Type 3:  Blending Plagiarism

When you: mix words or ideas from an unacknowledged source in with your own words or ideas; mix together uncited words and ideas from several sources into a single work; or mix together properly cited uses of a source with uncited uses.

Type 4: Insufficient Acknowledgement

When you correctly cite your source once, but continue to use the author's work with out giving additional proper citation.

Type 5: Self-Plagiarism

When you: use a paper or assignment completed for one class to satisfy the assignment for a different class. Even if you modify a previous paper or assignment, you must get permission from your professor/ instructor and correctly cite your previous paper.


Ask your librarian or professor. If you are unsure about how to cite source material or whether or not something should be cited, check with your lecturer or librarian; they are the professionals.

Source: University Library of South Alabama