What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s words or ideas as your own. It is a form of stealing. In student work it defrauds the instructor who grades it and your classmates who are judged on their own merits.

Plagiarism covers a wide range of theft. It is not limited to books and articles, but includes music, lectures, websites, and materials in all media and formats. Whether you are working on a paper or a homework assignment, developing a presentation or a website, it is important to credit your sources. Most cases of plagiarism are unintentional, but even if you don’t deliberately steal from someone else’s work, you are answerable for careless thefts. When in doubt—cite!

Ithaca College defines plagiarism as part of the Standards of Academic Conduct, found in the Ithaca College Policy Manual.


The key to avoiding plagiarism is citing your sources. Citing acknowledges those who have contributed to your work and serves as a road map to readers who wish to consult your sources for themselves. Citing demonstrates that you are participating in and contributing to an ongoing dialog on your topic. It is more than just a safeguard of intellectual property—it is an affirmation of civility, openness, and honesty.

For more information about citing in general, see our Research 101 Citing Guide. For details on different citation styles, see the Citation Styles page.

Uncontested Facts

Not all information requires citation. Factual information that is generally agreed-upon need not be cited. One simple test of common knowledge is to consult reference works to see if the information is widely reported and undisputed.


The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to quote a source word-for-word and set it off in quotation marks. Most citation styles follow a direct quotation with a brief, in-text citation pointing to the full citation at the end of the paper. Others follow a quotation with a superscript number corresponding to a numbered citation at the bottom of the page or in your end notes.

While direct quotations are a safe way to avoid plagiarism, they should not be too long or too frequent. Use them only if they provide an especially memorable phrase or well-formulated idea.


Paraphrasing is expressing someone else’s ideas in your own words. But rewording or rearranging a text does not make it your intellectual property—plagiarism applies to ideas as well as words. You must provide citations for sources from which you have borrowed ideas, even if you paraphrase.