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ACG Series: Plagiarism

In this Academic Communication Guide (ACG), learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Unit 1: Plagiarism - What is Plagiarism?  

Unit Objectives  

At the end of this ten-minute unit, you will be able to:  

a) State what plagiarism is, and  

b) Explain why plagiarism is unacceptable in academic assignments.  

Unit 1 Contents

Understanding Plagiarism (1)

  • Quick Check

Understanding Plagiarism (2)

  • Quick Check

Unit Summary

End-of-Unit Exercise


Understanding Plagiarism (1)

What is plagiarism? You may have been told that it is ‘copying’ or ‘borrowing’ ideas, words and sentences from other people’s written or spoken texts. Certainly, your high school, polytechnic, or junior college teachers would have very seriously cautioned you against passing off your classmate’s work as your own. However, ‘copying’ and ‘borrowing’ sound rather innocuous, don’t they? Plagiarism can be much more complex than “Ctrl + C” and “Ctrl + V”. In essence, plagiarism is an ethical issue and defined as ‘using someone else’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own’ (Scribbr, n.d.).  

In 2005, researcher Donald L. McCabe from Rutgers University published a study on plagiarism in North American universities. He surveyed over 70,000 undergraduates and, amongst other notable findings, reported that 36% of them admitted to “paraphrasing/copying a few sentences from an Internet source without footnoting it” (McCabe, 2005, pg. 5). There are varied reasons why the students might have plagiarised in this way, but one reason could be that they simply did not know what plagiarism is. This brings us to the question: What constitutes plagiarism? 

Quick Check 

Here are some statements. Which do you think are examples of plagiarism?  

1. I repeated a joke I heard from a friend, but I didn’t say that she came up with it. It’s a good joke and I am better at telling it anyway.  

2. I integrated another TikTok user’s video into my own to interpret the trend in my own way.  

3. I shared my cousin’s Instagram post on my stories page with his handle easily seen by my followers.  

4. I copied Sean’s tweet on climate change instead of sharing the original post. Well, social currency is hard to come by!  



Only statements 2 and 3 are not considered to be cases of plagiarism, mainly because the source of the original content has been made known to all who will view or listen to your work. In essence, if it’s not yours, don’t pretend that it is.  

Understanding Plagiarism (2)

According to the University of Oxford (n.d.):  

‘Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form is covered under this definition’ (p. 5).  

The importance of ‘full acknowledgement’ is why citation styles such as APA, MLA, IEEE and CSE exist. Each citation styles outlines a ‘formula’ that helps a writer to collect and present all the necessary information for complete citation of a person’s original ideas and work. Most citation styles direct users to present similar bibliographic information (e.g., content creator’s name, date of publishing, country of publishing, link to online information, etc) of original works and usually only differ in the order that this information is presented. The Citations module in this series will cover some of these major citation styles.  

Quick Check 

Circle the correct option for the following statements:  

i. Plagiarism occurs when I use someone else’s words in my own assignment without giving due credit to that person. (True/False) 

ii. When writing my assignment, I quote from writer X’s paper. I fully acknowledge the author by telling the reader who the writer is, when he or she wrote the quote and how to find the paper that contains it. (Plagiarism/Not plagiarism) 



i. True 
ii. Not plagiarism 


Perhaps you are beginning to think that avoiding plagiarism is a tall order. After all, it is not as easy to cite or acknowledge others’ work in an assignment as it is to share someone else’s post on Instagram, especially since the academic citation and acknowledgement systems and protocols may not be as fast, efficient or accessible as those built into social media applications. This ‘inconvenience’ that many students experience is necessary for several reasons. 

If you can understand why it is important to retweet, repost and stitch content ethically, then you should be able to see the need to cite and acknowledge others’ work in your writing. In the next module, we will delve deeper into the issue of writing with integrity to show you the common types of plagiarism.  

Unit Summary

Well done! You have completed Unit 1 of this module. In this unit, you learnt the definition of plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing off someone’s work, words or ideas as your own. Plagiarising is unacceptable because it involves not fully acknowledging or citing the original author’s or content creator’s work

End-of-Unit Exercise

End-of-unit Exercise  

Answer the following questions in 2 minutes.  

1. What are some situations that make plagiarism tempting? Choose two options. 

a. When I have a feasible plan for completing assignments 

b. When I don’t keep a good record of my sources 

c. When I know the citation formula 

d. When I feel like I have nothing to write about 


2. Which of the following is NOT considered to be plagiarism? 

a. Copying information from the Internet without acknowledging the writer 

b. Borrowing someone’s idea and presenting it as my own  

c. Providing the full citation for a quotation 


3. What are two attitudes that can help you avoid plagiarism?  

a. Plagiarism is wrong, but all right as long as I don’t get caught.  

b. I may not be able to have an original idea about a topic, but I can show that I can formulate a solid opinion based on research.  

c. If I don’t really understand how citations work, it is acceptable to seek help from my tutor.  

d. Citation styles are too cumbersome. I’ll just use an online generator.  


4. Choose all options that correctly answer this statement:  

Fully crediting other writers’ or content creators’ work means including details about:  

a. their full names. 

b. where the work was published (e.g., journal title, country, website). 

c. when the work was published. 

d. title of the work. 

e. their thoughts about it. 




1. b & d           

2. c       

3. b & c (online generators may not accurately cite sources)          

4. a, b, c & d