What is plagiarism and how to prevent it

Plagiarism is the use of another person's materials without adequate citation of the source: Plagiarism is the appropriation of other people’s material without giving proper credit

This definition contains two important elements: 

  • A student or scientist who commits plagiarism appropriates the material of another author (appropriation), thereby failing to give proper credit to the contributions of the other author (credit). By definition, therefore, plagiarism involves the use of materials belonging to other authors without providing adequate citation of the source.
  • The term ‘self-plagiarism’ is sometimes used to refer to the re-use of one's own work without citing the source properly. This term should be avoided, however, as it is a misnomer. It is impossible for individuals to steal or re-appropriate their own intellectual property. For this reason, the core of the concept of ‘plagiarism’, which is also responsible for the serious classification of ‘academic misconduct’, does not apply in cases of self-plagiarism (KNAW, advisory brief, correct citation, 2014).

Reusing texts and images, even if the copyright has expired, may only be used if the source is correctly stated. The essence of plagiarism is that the reader is unable to discern whether texts or images are original or reproduced.

There are various different levels of plagiarism. 

It is patently clear when entire texts (and images) have been reproduced, but the evidence becomes problematic when some of the sentences or words have been altered. And it is even more difficult when a text has been summarised or paraphrased. Although this is permitted, the source must still be stated. Reproducing small parts of a text, such as a few paragraphs, without acknowledging the source is also termed as plagiarism. 

When creating content you can prevent plagiarism by citing and paraphrasing correctly. In our online guide you can find more information on how to do so.