Simply put, plagiarism is taking another person's work or idea and presenting it as your own. All researchers make use of the work of other scholars, whether quoting their words directly or paraphrasing their ideas. But in doing so, they must always explicitly give credit to the sources of these words and ideas. Otherwise, it will appear that they came up with these words and ideas themselves, which is not only dishonest but a serious violation of the principles of academic integrity.
Everyone knows that copying entire sentences or paragraphs from other sources without proper attribution is plagiarism. But students may also commit plagiarism without even realizing it. For example, if you paraphrase someone else's words without changing them sufficiently, you may be guilty of plagiarism. It's also considered plagiarism if you use another person's idea in your paper without providing an in-text citation or footnote, even if you include the source in your bibliography.
Why is it important to always cite your sources when you borrow their words or ideas?
- It gives credit where credit is due. The original authors invested considerable time and effort into their research and writing, and deserve to be credited for the words and ideas that they produced. Taking their words or ideas without attribution is like stealing their intellectual property.
- It helps other scholars (or your professor) track down the original source of your information. Someone who is reading your paper may want to learn more about an idea, study, or statistic to which you refer. If you cite your source, the reader can find and read it. This process of digging into citations is an important part of scholarly research, and it gets short-circuited if writers don't cite their sources.
- It makes your original ideas stand out. If you consistently cite your sources when you borrow their words or ideas, then when you make a statement that lacks a citation, the reader can feel confident that this statement is your own original idea. This helps the reader see how you built off your sources to construct new ideas, which makes you look good.