What Is Plagiarism? 6 Types of Plagiarism and How To Avoid Them

When you’re assigned to write an essay or paper, it can be tempting to cut some corners to save time and energy. One of the most common strategies for slicing those corners is plagiarism, but that can lead to a failed grade and a lot of problems. Even if you don’t give in to the dark side, there are so many types of plagiarism that you might do it without even realizing it.

student copying another student's paper with plagiarism definition student copying another student's paper with plagiarism definition
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What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism often gets conflated with stealing or copying someone’s work. While these are all related, plagiarism specifically refers to “taking someone else’s words, work, or ideas and passing them off as your own, without any attribution to the original creator.” Plagiarism comes from the Latin word plagiarius, meaning “kidnapper, seducer, person who abducts the child or slave of another.”

Most people associate plagiarism with writing, but it can include using work from nearly any media without providing citation or getting permission. This includes:

  • Images
  • Videos
  • Copyrighted music

Does Plagiarism Matter in Personal Settings?

Plagiarism largely applies to professional and academic settings. You won’t usually face consequences for it in personal settings, though the receiving party may not always feel great. For example, if you tried to pass off Sylvia Plath’s “Love Letter” as a wholly original poem that you wrote on your own to your partner and they found out, they probably wouldn’t feel too good about it.

Social media remains a strange gray area. Most content, specifically memes, is typically iterating on existing content. While you can potentially report someone for plagiarism for stealing a tweet or post, it would bring in a lot of questions about authorship and “originality of the tweet” that would ultimately lead to, at most, a deleted tweet.

What Are the Consequences of Plagiarism in High School?

Plagiarizing in class can lead to a whole host of consequences. At the very least, you will fail your paper. A more forgiving teacher may allow you to rewrite the paper, but don’t count on it.

What Are the Consequences of Plagiarism in College?

Plagiarism policies tend to be even stricter in college. Along with failing the paper, you may fail the entire course. Depending on the extent of the plagiarism, you may experience further disciplinary action, including suspension, expulsion, and being held back from graduating. 

You may also receive a permanent or temporary notation of plagiarism on your transcript, which can potentially affect your admission to grad school or general school transfers.

What Are the Consequences of Plagiarism at Work?

In professional capacities, like copying excerpts from someone else’s book and using them in your own book, you could face legal consequences. Your general reputation as a writer may take a huge hit and negatively affect your career.

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6 Types of Plagiarism

As straightforward as plagiarism might seem, things do get complicated. Much like ice cream and potato chips, plagiarism comes in a few different forms and flavors. Unfortunately, all forms of plagiarism taste like cheating, fraud, or just plain loose ethics.

Direct Plagiarism

Whether you call this clone plagiarism or word-for-word plagiarism, direct plagiarism is your vanilla, everyday plagiarism. This involves copying someone else’s work, word for word, and passing it off as your own. Whether that’s copy-pasting or physically writing each word by hand, it’s still direct plagiarism.
 

Source

Your Work

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

Thanks to plagiarism detecting tools and basic search engines, direct plagiarism is the easiest type of plagiarism to detect.

Aggregate Plagiarism

Aggregate plagiarism is nearly the same as direct plagiarism: You write a work that is almost entirely copied or unoriginal. The difference is that aggregate plagiarism uses citation. This means not only copying someone else’s work, but providing proof of where you copied that work from.
 

Source

Your Work

The Ice Cream Situation by John Smith

 

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.1

 

1. Smith, John. The Ice Cream Situation. (Los Angeles: Publisher Publishing, 2022)

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Patchwork Plagiarism

Patchwork or mosaic plagiarism involves copying sentences from an author (or several authors) but replacing a few words with synonyms without changing the actual structure of the sentences. Nice work using a thesaurus, but you’re still stealing someone else’s ideas as your own.

Source

Your Work

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

Although Tom did not like ice cream, he always purchased a container of rocky road to cheer himself up.

Self Plagiarism

Self plagiarism can be a bit confusing. It involves taking previous work, either in full or specific parts, and reusing it in a new work. If they’re your own words, what’s the problem? Again, it comes down to dishonesty here. You’re presenting this work as a whole bunch of new ideas that are, in fact, not new at all.

You can potentially use your own work, but you have to cite it. Even then, in a college setting, you need permission from every professor involved.

Your Work (two years ago)

Your Work (present day)

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

Accidental Plagiarism

Accidental or unintentional plagiarism is the easiest type of plagiarism for a lot of students and young writers to fall into. It comes in a variety of forms, but it ultimately involves forgetting citations, misattributing quotes, or failing to fully paraphrase a source.

For example, you’ve written your paper, provided sources and citations, and did your best to paraphrase, but you missed a quotation mark on a quote. Or maybe you intended to cite your sources but forgot to create a works cited page before submitting your paper. These would be considered plagiarism, even if they were done unintentionally.

Source

Your Work

The Ice Cream Situation by John Smith

 

While Tom wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.

Tom is frequently characterized as indecisive or morally fluctuating. For example, although he “wasn’t a fan of ice cream, he always bought a pint of rocky road to improve his spirits.”1

 

(missing citation)

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Hired Plagiarism

This form of plagiarism involves hiring someone to write something for you or purchasing a written work. You might think there’s nothing wrong with spending your hard-earned dollars on someone else’s labor or writing, but it’s still passing off someone else’s work as your own. 

For example, you might pay a writer to write your term paper, then submit it to your professor as your own work.

How To Avoid Plagiarism

It might seem easy to not copy another person’s work, but avoiding plagiarism can be a lot harder than you realize. Thankfully, understanding what it is and its different forms is an essential first step, but where do you go from there?

Paraphrase and Summarize Other Source’s Ideas

Paraphrasing involves presenting someone else’s ideas in your own voice, changing words, altering sentence structure, and changing parts of speech. It's not simply using synonyms. Aside from leading to some strange phrases (baby carrots might turn into infant vegetables), you’re still technically committing patchwork plagiarism. 

Summarizing is shortening a piece of information, boiling it down to its basic ideas in your own words. Both still require citations.
 

Original source

Despite his dislike of bitter foods as a youth, he had grown to love the taste of coffee as an adult.

Patchwork plagiarism

Despite his hatred of acrid foods as a kid, he had developed a taste for espresso as a grown-up.

Paraphrase

His appreciation for coffee came later in life after years of adjusting his taste buds to bitter foods, which showed that he was open to changing his own habits.

Summary

He liked drinking coffee.

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Take Notes and Write Out Your Own Thoughts As You Research

When you find a line or excerpt that you like, make note of where you found it, whether it’s the title of a book or your professor’s name. Jot down any thoughts, questions, or ideas that come to mind as you research, highlighting them or otherwise marking them as original.

This is a good initial way to separate out information that you’ll need to cite from your own original thoughts.

Use Quotations When You Can’t Paraphrase

If you truly cannot paraphrase or you appreciate the original source’s wording, it is completely fine to use that exact phrase or excerpt as long as you use quotation marks along with proper citation. In school assignments, be aware that teachers frequently limit the number of direct quotes in a paper.

To use quotes, simply place quotation marks around any words that aren’t your own. For larger quotes (usually longer than four lines), use block quotes. Any misspellings or grammar problems in the original quote require a [sic] tag.

Cite The Sources That You Use

From works cited pages to footnotes and endnotes, citations come in all forms, and they play an integral role in nearly any researched work, from research papers to video essays. Whether you’re paraphrasing or directly quoting, you should cite every piece of information that isn’t your own original thought.

Get Someone Else To Look It Over

If you’re really not sure if you paraphrased or cited properly, ask for a second opinion from a tutor, a classmate, or teacher assistant. Even your teacher may be willing to look it over if it means helping you understand how to avoid plagiarism.

If you can’t find someone to check your work, there are online plagiarism checkers available that can scan blocks of text for potential plagiarism.

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Use Your Voice and Creativity

It’s easy to lose track of your own voice when you’re writing a research paper. As much as you need to stick with an “academic” tone, you can still flex your voice and writing style to make your paper read and sound unique.