How To: Not Plagiarize


 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 On-line Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means:

1) To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own

2) To use (another's production) without crediting the source

3) To commit literary theft

4) 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. 

Can words and ideas, however, really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. In the United States and many other countries, the expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some media (such as a book or a computer file.)

All of the following examples are considered plagiarism:

· Turning in someone else’s work as your own

· Copying words or ideas from someone else without giving them credit

· Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks

· Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation

· Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

· Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

Attention! Changing the words of an original source is not sufficient to prevent plagiarism. If you have retained the essential idea of an original source and have not cited it, then no matter how drastically you may have altered its context or presentation, you have still plagiarized.

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.

Plagiarism and National History Day

According to Michael Kern at National History Day:

“Plagiarism has become more frequent in NHD competitions in recent years, and students have been disqualified from competition because they plagiarized material in their projects. Judges can and will check projects for plagiarized material.”

There are many reasons to avoid plagiarism. First, you can get into legal trouble. People have been sued for stealing an author’s work and have been forced to pay damages. Avoiding plagiarism also maintains your academic integrity with your teachers and peers. Those who plagiarize have damaged their reputation and, in some cases, the reputation of others. In some cases, historians have ruined their careers and students have been kicked out of college. Seriously.

The simple way to keep your academic and scholastic integrity in check is to cite your sources. By doing this, you are giving credit to the author whose hard work provided you with the information used for your project. When presenting your project to the judges at National History Day, citing your sources shows them that you have looked at the most relevant primary sources available and researched the most recent academic literature on your topic.


Works Cited:

National History Day. “Theme Book.” Accessed August 15, 2012.

“What is Plagiarism?” Accessed August 15, 2012.

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2021 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.