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United States Military Academy Library

Documenting Sources: Plagiarism

Understanding Plagiarism

Plagiarism—what it is and how to avoid it

Plagiarism according to the Merriam –Webster dictionary is: the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit. These words and ideas include:

  • verbatim quotes (both written and oral)
  • paraphrases of another person’s theories, ideas or opinions (this can include combining sets of ideas from more than one source)
  • statistics, facts & figures, illustrations, data sets

When can one use information without citations?  If the information is Common Knowledge a citation is not required. Some examples are:

  • Well known quotes, axioms, proverbs and sayings
  • Widely known information (i.e. George Washington was the 1st president of the United States; water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit)

When writing academic works know your audience; what may be common knowledge for a group of scientists, may not be known by a group of poets.

  • Information appearing in a number of reputable sources, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias
  • Statistics, numerical data, complete quotes or ideas are NOT common knowledge and must be cited.
  • When in doubt cite your sources.

Tips for preventing Plagiarism

Take careful note of your sources during your research process.  Include author(s), title, place of publication, publisher, internet source if applicable, page numbers. More is better, you can always discard unneeded information later. Be sure to indicate which phrases and ideas are yours and which are the work of others.   Decide on a strategy for documenting your resources and follow this procedure throughout your research.

When in doubt cite your sources.

For further guidance check with your instructor, your department’s approved citation guide, your librarians.

***When in doubt cite your sources. ***

The Modern Language Association provides the following guidance with regard to plagiarism:



It happens more than you may think.

According to surveys in U.S. News and World Report

  1. 80% of "high-achieving" high school students admit to cheating.
  2. 51% of high school students did not believe cheating was wrong.
  3. 95% of cheating high school students said that they had not been detected.
  4. 75% of college students admitted cheating, and 90% of college students didn't believe cheaters would be caught.
  5. Almost 85% of college students said cheating was necessary to get ahead.

In a sample of 1,800 students at nine state universities:

  1. 70% of the students admitted to cheating on exams
  2. 84% admitted to cheating on written assignments
  3. 52% had copied a few sentences from a website w/o citing the source

Kerkvliet, J., & Sigmund, C. L. (1999). Can we control cheating in the classroom? Journal of Economic Education, 30(4), 331-351.

Ashworth, P., Bannister, P., & Thorne, P. (1997). "Guilty in whose eyes? University students' perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in academic work and assessment." Studies in Higher Education, 22(2), 187-203. (EJ 549 250)

from the November 22, 1999 issue of U.S. News and World Report

from The Center for Academic Integrity (

McCabe, D. L., & Trevino, L. K. (1996). "What we know about cheating in college: Longitudinal trends and recent developments." Change, 28(1), 28-33. (EJ 520 088)

Above material from


  • When you borrow a piece of writing verbatim that someone else wrote you are quoting.  If you choose this option, it’s very important to use the identical words of the original writer, without leaving out such essential words as ‘not,’ since that would confuse your reader.
  • Distinguish quoted material in your paper by using quotation marks (" ") or, for a lengthier passage, by indenting the quoted text. Additionally, you must cite quoted material with either footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations. 
  • Since quotes strongly highlight how something is stated by someone other than yourself, use them sparingly.  Limit their use to times when you are willing to let another voice speak for you due to the exceptional preciseness and clarity of their language.  
  • Paraphrasing and summarizing rather than quoting are often the norm today in the sciences and social sciences.

Sample Quote

“Like soldiers in a just war, soldiers in a holy war were guiltless of the sin of murder (provided their motives were proper), but more than that, holy warriors could earn salvation by their actions.” Alfred J Andrea, Encyclopedia of the Crusades (United States: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003), 161.


  • When you summarize a book or an article you share its essential points with your reader – the gist of what it’s all about – entirely in your own words.
  • Before writing a summary, read the original, making notes on the main ideas discussed.
  • Article abstracts are a common example of summarizing.
  • Keep your summary very short, aiming to capture the essential points of the original work.  
  • Always cite the work summarized.

Sample Summary

By combining the concepts of the secular just war developed by the Romans, and the Old Testament holy wars fought to further God’s Divine Plan, the Crusades were seen by the medieval Christian West as both just and holy.

Andrea, Encyclopedia of the Crusades, 160-161.


When you put someone else’s thoughts and views on a topic in your own words, you’re paraphrasing.

  • Paraphrasing another person’s ideas and opinions doesn’t make it your own work.
  • In addition to changing the wording and sentence structure of the original, provide a citation.
  • Whereas having a thesaurus on hand may be helpful, never simply replace words from the original with synonyms. 
  • While striving to capture the essential points of the original, reconfigure both the wording and sentence structure.
  • Use simpler sentences and more common terms, and don’t feel compelled to follow the original’s organizational structure or restate all of it, only what’s needed.
  • Take care not to distort the meaning of the original by changing its emphasis or omitting qualifying words that could confuse your reader.

Why paraphrase rather than quote from the original?

  • Paraphrasing gives you the opportunity to use your own voice when you write, unlike a quote, when another voice takes over. 
  • You demonstrate more understanding of the breadth and depth of the original work when you paraphrase rather than quote. 

Tips for paraphrasing

  • Read the original in its entirety, highlighting or making notes in the margins as needed.
  • Once you have absorbed the information, write down the main ideas without looking at the text. 
  • Write up the essential points coherently for a reader to understand, utilizing your notes.
  • Compare your paraphrase with the original to assure they are sufficiently different from each other.
  • Always cite your source.

Sample Paraphrase

Original: As helpful as the military orders were in shoring up the defenses of the crusader states, they were independent of any direct control by the lords and kings whom they assisted, and for that reason alone these same lords needed to create armies that they, and they alone, controlled.

Paraphrase: Lords and kings of the crusader states saw the need to call up armies reporting directly to them, given that military orders, while helpful, were totally independent.

Andrea, Encyclopedia of the Crusades, 212.

"Plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's words, ideas, or work - whether accidentally or deliberately - as your own work. Source material obtained from internet sources requires the same attentiveness to documentation as from all other sources. Every cadet scholar must properly document the sources of information and ideas received. When in doubt, a good rule is to document any assistance in question."


Document in detail as you work; this will ensure complete citations and will preclude forgetting the specific passage, page, or URL of original idea.

Document all numbers, facts, direct quotes

  • follow specific guidelines as laid out by your instructor with regard to format
  • when in doubt: DOCUMENT 

Documentation of Academic Work July 2017

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