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Taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgment and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver.

American Association of University Professors (September/October,1989)


As the above quotation shows, plagiarism has been traditionally defined as the taking of words, images, processes, structure and design elements, ideas, etc. of others and presenting them as one’s own. It is often associated with phrases such as kidnapping of words, kidnapping of ideas, fraud, and literary theft. Plagiarism can manifest itself in a variety of ways and is not just confined to student papers or published articles or books. For example, consider a scientist who makes a presentation at a conference and discusses at length an idea or concept that had already been proposed by someone else yet not considered common knowledge. During his presentation, he fails to fully acknowledge the specific source of the idea and, consequently, misleads the audience into believing that he was the originator of that idea. This, too, may constitute an instance of plagiarism. The fact is that plagiarism manifests itself in a variety of situations and the following examples are just a small sample of the many ways in which it occurs and of the types of consequences that can follow as a result.

  • A historian resigns from the Pulitzer board after allegations that she had appropriated text from other sources in one of her books.
  • A writer for a newspaper who was found to have plagiarized material for some of his articles ended up resigning his position.  
  • A biochemist resigns from a prestigious clinic after accusations that a book he wrote contained appropriated portions of text from a National Academy of Sciences report.
  • A famous musician is found guilty of unconscious plagiarism by including elements of another musical group’s previously recorded song in one of his new songs which then becomes a hit. The musician is forced to pay compensation for the infraction.
  • A college president is forced to resign after allegations that he failed to attribute the source of material that was part of a college convocation speech.
  •  A U.S. Senator has his Master’s degree rescinded after findings of plagiarism in one of this academic papers; he withdraws from the Senate race.
  • An education minister resigns her government position after a university rescinds her doctoral degree for plagiarism.
  • A psychologist has his doctoral degree rescinded after the university finds that portions of his doctoral dissertation had been plagiarized.

In sum, plagiarism can be a very serious form of ethical misconduct. For this reason, the concept of plagiarism is universally addressed in all scholarly, artistic, and scientific disciplines. In the humanities and the sciences, for example, a plethora of writing guides for students and professionals exist to provide guidance to authors on discipline-specific procedures for acknowledging the contributions of others.

While instruction on proper attribution, a key concept in avoiding plagiarism, is almost always provided, coverage of this important topic often fails to go beyond the most common forms: plagiarism of ideas and plagiarism of text.

Source URL: https://ori.hhs.gov/plagiarism-3