Is it Plagiarism If You Cite? Uncovering the Facts and Misconceptions

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By Jacob Maslow

Plagiarism, passing off someone else’s work as your own, is a pressing concern in the academic world and beyond. With the ever-increasing amount of information available at our fingertips, it’s essential to understand what constitutes plagiarism and how it can be avoided. One common question in this context is whether citing a source prevents an act from being considered plagiarism.

Citing sources is a crucial aspect of ethical writing and research, as it acknowledges the contributions of other scholars and provides readers with the necessary information to verify the claims made in a piece of work. For instance, the MLA citation style is one of the most popular and accessible formats. However, it can still be confusing when composing a research paper in any style or mla research paper for the first timeProper citation not only adds credibility to a document but also helps avoid potential plagiarism. However, the mere presence of citations does not automatically absolve a writer from all accusations of plagiarism. Various factors come into play when determining if an act constitutes plagiarism, despite the inclusion of citations.

These factors may include the appropriateness of the citation style, the extent to which the original work has been paraphrased or summarized, and the writer’s intentions in using the cited material. Therefore, writers must be aware of the different types of plagiarism, the importance of properly paraphrasing and summarizing, and the correct way of citing sources to ensure their work maintains academic integrity.

Understanding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is using someone else’s ideas or work without proper acknowledgment. This section will explore the different types of plagiarism, the consequences associated with plagiarism, and the importance of academic integrity.

Types of Plagiarism

There are several types of plagiarism:

  • Direct plagiarism: Copying verbatim from a source without citation or providing quotation marks.
  • Paraphrasing: Rewriting a source’s content in one’s own words without crediting the original author.
  • Mosaic plagiarism: Mixing one’s writing with someone else’s words or ideas without proper citation.
  • Self-plagiarism: Reusing one’s previously submitted work without all parties’ permission.

Consequences of Plagiarism

Plagiarism can lead to severe consequences for the student and their academic career. Common consequences include:

  1. Receiving a failing grade on the assignment or course.
  2. Being placed on academic probation can restrict a student’s access to certain resources and opportunities.
  3. Facing expulsion from the institution can harm the student’s reputation and future academic pursuits.
  4. Legal implications include copyright infringement lawsuits if the plagiarized material is a protected work.

Institutions often have specific policies in place to handle instances of plagiarism, and these consequences may vary depending on the severity of the violation and the institution’s discretion.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity refers to the commitment to honest and responsible behavior in educational pursuits. Emphasizing academic integrity means promoting a culture of trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility in academic communities.

Practicing academic integrity involves:

  • Properly citing sources and giving credit to original authors.
  • Collaborating with peers only when permitted by the assignment or course guidelines.
  • Avoiding the unauthorized use of supplementary materials or resources during exams.
  • Ensuring originality in one’s work and preventing any form of plagiarism.

Maintaining academic integrity helps preserve educational degrees’ value and ensures a fair learning environment for all students. In addition, adhering to these principles helps students develop essential ethical and professional habits that will benefit their academic and professional lives.

Citation and Its Importance

What Is Citation

Citation is acknowledging the sources of information used in a piece of work. It allows authors to give proper credit to original creators by referring to their works, ideas, or research. In addition, citations enable readers to trace the sources, discover different perspectives, and further investigate the topic.

Citation Styles

There are various citation styles, each with distinct rules and formatting guidelines. Some of the most common styles include APA (American Psychological Association), used in social sciences, and MLA (Modern Language Association), commonly used in humanities. These styles have predefined formats for in-text citations and reference lists, ensuring consistency and guiding creators and readers.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations are placed within the body of a written work to indicate the source of a specific piece of information, such as a quote, statistic, or concept. The format of an in-text citation depends on the chosen citation style. For example, in APA, an in-text citation typically contains the author’s last name, followed by the publication year in parentheses. On the other hand, the MLA style includes the author’s last name and the page number.

Reference Lists

A reference list, a bibliography, or a works cited page is a comprehensive collection of all sources cited throughout a work. It includes complete bibliographic information, including the author’s name, publication date, title, and publisher. Reference lists help readers locate the sources and verify the accuracy of the cited material. Different citation styles dictate specific formats for organizing and presenting these references.

Using proper citation techniques is essential for avoiding plagiarism and ensuring the work’s credibility. By adhering to established citation styles and guidelines, authors demonstrate respect for the intellectual property of others and maintain the integrity of their research.

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Avoiding Plagiarism

Paraphrasing and Quoting

When writing and submitting a paper at a university, students must try to avoid plagiarism in their work. One way to do this is by appropriately paraphrasing and quoting the ideas of others. Paraphrasing involves expressing the author’s idea in one’s own words while quoting is directly citing the author’s exact words. Both methods require proper citation to give credit to the original author and prevent accidental plagiarism.

To avoid patchwork or mosaic plagiarism, students should not simply replace words with synonyms or change the order of sentences. Instead, they should aim to capture the essence of the idea and present it in a new way. Professors and instructors appreciate the effort put into genuine paraphrasing and quoting skills.

Using a Plagiarism Checker

A plagiarism checker, such as Grammarly, can be a helpful tool for students aiming to avoid plagiarism in their papers. These tools compare a student’s writing to a vast database of sources, identifying any overlaps or similarities. Utilizing a plagiarism checker allows students to identify any accidental plagiarism and make necessary corrections before submitting their work to their professor.

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Properly Citing Sources

Properly citing sources is crucial for avoiding plagiarism in a paper. It demonstrates that the student has credited the original author for any borrowed ideas or quotations. The proper citation also allows the instructor to verify the sources’ legitimacy. Different universities and disciplines require different citation styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago), so students should consult their syllabus or instructor for specific guidance.


  • Paraphrase and quote appropriately, always citing the source
  • Use a plagiarism checker to detect any accidental overlaps in writing
  • Follow the appropriate citation style as instructed by your professor or discipline

By adhering to these guidelines, students can avoid plagiarism and maintain academic integrity in their writing.

Special Cases of Plagiarism


Self-plagiarism occurs when an author reuses significant portions of their previously published work in a new publication without properly citing the original content. While it may seem harmless, it can create ethical and copyright issues, especially if a company or institution owns the original work. In addition, educators and peers may also view it as dishonest, as it can give a false impression of the author’s productivity.

Collaborative Projects

In collaborative projects, all team members must be aware and agree to credit each other’s work appropriately. Misunderstanding or miscommunication can lead to accusations of plagiarism. To avoid this, the collaborators should discuss and establish clear guidelines for citation and authorship early in the project.

Code Plagiarism

Code plagiarism is copying another programmer’s code without proper citation or permission. Sometimes, it may involve changing variable names, comments, or slight modifications to the original code, giving the false impression of creating a unique product. Code plagiarism goes beyond violating copyright; it’s an ethical issue that could damage the reputation of a professional or a student in the tech community.

Plagiarism Non-Plagiarism
Code Copying entire code segments or libraries. Using open-source code with proper attribution.
Variables & Comments Changing variable names or comments to hide copying. Using descriptive variable names and comments that clearly explain the code.

Image and Media Plagiarism

Image and media plagiarism is the unauthorized use, copying, or altering images, videos, or other media without proper attribution. This form of plagiarism can include:

  • Direct plagiarism: Presenting someone else’s media as your own.
  • Paraphrasing plagiarism: Modifying someone else’s media, such as cropping or adding filters, and presenting it as original content without proper citation.
  • Creative plagiarism: Combining elements from multiple sources to create a new image or media product without properly citing the sources.

Always provide proper attribution and permissions when using someone else’s media to avoid image and media plagiarism. Teachers and content creators can use tools like Google’s reverse image search to check for potential plagiarism.

Handling Plagiarism Accusations

Communicating with University Officials

When accused of plagiarism, it is essential to communicate effectively with university officials. Compose a clear and concise explanation that addresses the specific concerns raised in the accusation. Clarify any misunderstandings and demonstrate an explicit knowledge of the plagiarism policies.

Showing Proof of Original Work

To defend against plagiarism claims, present evidence of original work. This may include drafts, work logs, or study records that helped develop the content. In addition, if reusing a previous work or incorporating content from a blog, properly cite these sources to demonstrate their relevance and avoid plagiarism.

Understanding Plagiarism Policies

Understanding the specific plagiarism policies of a given institution is crucial in addressing any accusations. Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations and the possible consequences for violating them. Be aware that plagiarism can damage one’s academic career and that policies may vary regarding sources, reuse of work, and proper citation practices.

In conclusion, handling plagiarism accusations requires open communication, proof of original work, and a thorough understanding of institutional policies. Be proactive and address the situation promptly to minimize potential damage to your academic career.


Is it plagiarism if you cite?

Generally, citing the source of information protects you from plagiarism, as it gives proper credit to the author. However, merely citing a source doesn’t guarantee your work is plagiarism-free. Ensure the cited material is relevant and used correctly to support your arguments.

When should I cite a source?

It’s essential to cite any information, quote, or idea borrowed from another person’s work. This includes but is not limited to books, articles, websites, images, music, or any other medium. By citing the source, you acknowledge its author and avoid any potential plagiarism accusations.

What is common knowledge? Do I need to cite it?

Common knowledge refers to information that is widely known and can be found in numerous sources. You don’t have to cite if a piece of information is considered common knowledge. However, it’s better to cite the source if you’re unsure whether it’s common knowledge.

What are the different citing styles?

Various citation styles are used in academic writing, such as APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard. Each style has its guidelines regarding formatting, in-text citations, and reference lists. Therefore, following the specific style required by your institution or the publication you’re writing for is crucial.

What if I paraphrase the original text?

Paraphrasing, or rewording an existing idea, still requires citation. Although you’re using your own words to express the material, the core idea still belongs to the original author. Proper citation ensures that you give credit to the source and avoid plagiarism.

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