Lesson and Quiz

Plagiarism: Lesson and Quiz

 The Writing Across the Curriculum Committee

at Nebraska Methodist College

Instructions: Please read the following definitions and descriptions of "plagiarism," as well as related explanations of the difference between the ethical violation of plagiarizing, and the less-serious mistake of not completely following all of the detailed rules of a documentation system such as APA style. Key concepts in this tutorial can be applied to both your writing of formal, academic papers, and also to your delivery of public speech presentations (especially to ways that you display ideas and data on PowerPoints or other presentation software). When you are done reading, then answer the quiz questions at the end.


This short lesson will help to clarify for you certain concepts related to citing sources and avoiding plagiarism. Violations of the standards of academic integrity arise both from lack of knowledge of these standards, and also from intentional purposes to deceive, but which are clearly unethical. You may have difficulty avoiding plagiarism if you don't know exactly what it is. But whether or not you can define "plagiarism," you have certain ethical obligations to be honest, exact, complete, and clear as you present the ideas and data of other people in your academic papers and presentations. If you violate these obligations, your work can be deemed to be a violation of academic integrity, and some quite severe penalties for such a violation can be administered.

To read about the policies and penalties related to violations of academic integrity at Nebraska Methodist College, please open the online College Catalog, which is loaded on the College website ( under "Student Life - Registrar - Academic Policies (here is a direct link: Thus your goal should be to give full credit for other people's words, numbers, opinions, insights, and other ideas that you decide to incorporate into your own academic papers and presentations. 

Citing Sources: The Basics

As a student, ideas in your papers and presentations represent (1) your own thinking, (2) another person's words or numbers, or (3) common knowledge. Ideas that come from your own thinking, your imagination, or your own creativity are all understood by readers or your audience to be your own ideas—you don't need to "cite your source." Similarly, facts that are well known, such as the names of governors or presidents, the dates of wars or hurricanes, or the locations of important landmarks, do not need to be placed between quotation marks or cited with an in-text citation. In every paragraph that you write, however, you must tell your readers or audience the source of all other ideas. Whether or not the idea is expressed in the exact words of another person or group, you must give credit to your source, or you have plagiarized.

What, Exactly, Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is most commonly associated with cheating on formal papers, research papers, or formal public presentations. The word "plagiarism" is derived from a Latin word that means "kidnapper." Students who plagiarize have acted in an unauthorized way to "kidnap" someone else's ideas for their own purposes as they complete assigned work.


DeSena (2007) defines plagiarism as "the appropriation of the ideas, thoughts, and evidence of another writer without proper citation" (p. 53) or "using someone else's language as one's own" (p. 45). Here is a more detailed description of plagiarism:

Plagiarism is accomplished essentially via a single method: taking words or ideas and representing them as one's own

or without using appropriate techniques that would indicate the words or ideas are from other sources. 'Appropriate

techniques' would refer to quotation marks, citations, footnotes, or specific wording acknowledging the source,

depending on the specific situation.

The most common ways plagiarism occurs are (1) when a student copies a source verbatim and submits the work as his

or her own, and (2) when a student relies on material from a source but makes superficial or other changes to the

material so that the submitted work it [sic] is not a verbatim copy of the source though it remains essentially an

unattributed intellectual effort of another person. (Cizek, 2003, p. 54).

Sometimes students plagiarize knowingly and willingly—they know they have violated policies and ethical rules and just hope they don't get caught. On other occasions, plagiarism arises unintentionally: (1) because students don't know all of the rules about integrating source material into their own projects, or (2) because the process of integrating a source into their own work seems to be less clear than black and white: the process has introduced certain "grey areas" of citing sources. This lesson will address both outright, clear "stealing" of ideas, as well as the less-clear circumstances students encounter as they integrate source material.


Cizek, G. J. (2003). Detecting and preventing classroom cheating. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

DeSena, L. H. (2007). Preventing plagiarism: Tips and techniques. Urbana, IL: National Council of

Teachers of English.


Three Ways to Integrate Ideas From a Source

Writers and presenters must cite their sources in order to give credit where credit is due, but also for the purpose of leading readers or audience members to find each source so they can look it up for themselves. In all documentation systems, you must offer an in-text citation and offer fuller bibliographic information about sources in a list of references at the end. In an APA-formatted paper, the in-text citation takes the form of information in parentheses immediately after the quoted words. Presentations should also include the identity of every author—even organizations or associations acting as authors—that you directly quote; if presentation software such as PowerPoint is used, you should devote a slide or slides at the end to report reference entries used in the presentation. At the end of a formal paper, a writer must list all the sources used. Similarly, a public presentation must make complete bibliographic information available to the audience, either in a handout or in the final "slide" of a projected display. An APA-style reference list is entitled "References."

Direct Quotations

A direct quotation consists of the exact words in another source: a book; a journal, magazine, or newspaper article; a website; a CD-ROM; a film; someone you have interviewed—any source whatsoever. You must indicate (by quotation marks or by a block quotation in a paper, or by such words as "quote" and "unquote" or "and I quote" in a presentation) that the words in question are not your own words at all, but are the exact words of another person or group. To leave these marks out in a paper, or to not set the words apart in a speech, is to misrepresent the words as "your own words," which is one form of plagiarism.

When directly quoting from a source, it is important to report all of the words that are used in the source. If you must cut out some words for justifiable reasons such as the need to write concisely or with emphasis, you must include ellipsis points (. . . ) in place of the omitted words. You must be certain that you have not significantly altered the meaning of the original source by leaving words out, however--to misrepresent ideas is to plagiarize. Similarly, if you need to change the form of a word to fit your own sentence's grammar, you must indicate changes made to words through the use of square brackets: [ ].



If you put another person's or another group's ideas or numbers in your own words (even though you use none of the exact words or numbers in the original document), you must also give credit for these ideas or numbers by using an in-text citation in your paper or by mentioning the author in your presentation. Remember: in APA style, an in-text citation includes naming the author's last name and also placing the year of publication in parentheses. Be careful! Putting another text in your own words without using any of the exact words is often a difficult process to do without using any of the author's own exact words: you might accidentally use a couple or more words of your original source. If you were to use a couple of the author's words, these words must appear in quotation marks—they are a "direct quotation" (see above). If you didn't, you will have plagiarized. You will have presented someone else's words as though they were your own.


A summary is like a paraphrase in that it reflects someone else's idea in your own words (but not in any of the exact words of this person or group). A summary, however, places the ideas of a much longer passage—often an entire article or book—into just a few sentences (most often, into just one sentence). If you summarize in your own words (even though you use none of the exact words or numbers in the original document), you must also give credit for these ideas or numbers by using an in-text citation in your paper or by mentioning the author in your presentation. If you accidentally use a couple or more words of your original source without placing them between quotation marks or without voicing "quote," "unquote" in your presentation, you have plagiarized: you have presented someone else's words as though they were your own.


Intentional Versus Unintentional "Plagiarism"

Intentional Plagiarism

Some forms of plagiarism are intentional acts of cheating. Anytime students ask a friend, relative, or classmate to write a paper or write up the plans for a presentation for them, this is plagiarism. Anytime students buy a completed term paper online or from some other business, and then turned any part of it in as if this were their own work, this is plagiarism. Anytime students "cut and paste" from the Internet or from other electronic sources, but do not reveal the source(s) of the ideas, numbers, or words, this is plagiarism. This is intentional cheating. Anytime students copy all or even a part of another student's words on the same assignment, and anytime students allow another student to copy all or part of a paper or presentation, this is plagiarism.


Other acts of plagiarism are more limited in scope, but are nonetheless cheating. If you decide to make up a quotation or other material and an associated in-text citation, this is plagiarism. If you change or invent the author of a quotation, an idea, or a statistic to make your paper appear to contain more numerous sources, this is plagiarism.


Similarly, if you decided that your paper or presentation needed more "experts" or would look or sound better if you added quotations, so you added quotation marks around your own words and cited a real or fictitious source, this is plagiarism. Or if for any reason you leave out quotation marks around an author's exactly quoted words (or, alternatively, fail to set long quotations off in indented "blocks"), or if you fail to state such words as "quote," "unquote" in a presentation, this is plagiarism.


Even if you forgot where you found a source and so you decide to guess about which author to cite—and even if the source you cite appears in your References list—if your guess is wrong (and it probably is), you have cheated and plagiarized. It would be much better to leave the source out.


Unintentional Plagiarism

Writers or speech givers sometimes make mistakes. They leave things out of their papers or presentations that they intended to include. In addition, students sometimes forget the rules of plagiarism or become careless. Nevertheless, unintentionally failing to remember to give full, accurate credit to a source still results in plagiarism and carries the same penalties.


Unintentional plagiarism results from many causes and takes many forms. Students get rushed; lose sources; mistakenly think they have not really used an author's exact words in one of their paraphrases or summaries; forget to include quotation marks, in-text citations, or Reference list items; mix up their sources; transcribe dates or the page or paragraph numbers inaccurately; and leave words out of direct quotations or add extra words in direct quotations. Problems mastering formats such as APA style sometimes lead students to leave crucial information out of Reference list entries or to report mistaken information. All of these mistakes can be considered grounds for implementing plagiarism penalties. It is thus the student's responsibility to avoid such mistakes at all costs.


"Plagiarism"? or "Error in APA Style"?

While it is always best to follow all of the rules of the documentation system that you are using, such as APA style (the documentation system used at Nebraska Methodist College), sometimes errors in documentation style do not technically result in "plagiarism."


For instance, in APA style, citations for direct quotations must include the author's last name, the year of publication, and the page number (or the paragraph number if the source is on the Internet and has no page numbers). If a writer named the author and year, but forgot to include the page number, or if a writer used an incorrect abbreviation for "page" (such as "pg." instead of the required "p."), or if a writer forgot to separate items in a parenthetical in-text citation with commas, this is improper "format," but not necessarily the improper citing of a source: credit will have been given to the source.


Similarly, if a writer who composes an APA-style reference entry failed to report the items such as "Author," "Date," "Title," and "Publication information" in the correct order, failed to use expected punctuation, correct uses of italic or capital letters (or standard or lowercase letters), then this writer has used improper "format," but has not necessarily improperly cited the source.


Mistakes that should not be considered "plagiarism" but rather errors in mastery of the academic English or the documentation system itself include, but are not limited to:


Errors in APA style should nevertheless be avoided, because too many errors or omissions can quickly become "plagiarism." If a writer draws from more than one page on a website, but in the body of the paper mentions only the general title of the website (when APA style requires the reporting of Author and Date), this writer will not have given individual credit to the different authors of different web pages, and will not have properly credited the sources (and will have "plagiarized"). Or, a writer who offers only a bullet-point list of Internet addresses, for instance, instead of a list of complete reference entries on the "References" page, has not named the author who should be given credit for writing the source on the Internet—this writer, too, has "plagiarized."


Citing sources clearly, accurately, honestly, and according to established rules is a high demand for student writers and presenters. But as they complete academic papers and presentations, all students must learn and follow the basic expectations of presenting the ideas and numbers that belong to others.

The general rule is that you must make certain distinctions clear for your readers or audience members: (1) you must distinguish between your own ideas and the ideas of others, and (2) you must distinguish between the exact words of someone else and the ideas of someone else that you have put in your own words. Furthermore, you must reveal all necessary information about the identity of your source. In other words, you must lead readers or audience members directly to your source(s). This requires both an identifying in-text citation, and a complete and well-formatted Reference list entry.


Quiz, Part I: Case Studies on Plagiarism (1 point, each)

Instructions: In this section appear several "case studies" in which possible plagiarism has been committed. Each of your answers is worth 1 point.  When you are ready to begin, please click on "Quiz me" to answer each question.

After reading each item, please indicate either "Yes" or "No" to the question, "Has someone committed any kind of plagiarism in this scenario?"


Case Study 1: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 2: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 3: Plagiarism, or Not?


  Toggle open/close quiz question 

Case Study 4: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 5: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 6: Plagiarism, or Not?

 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 7: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 8: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 9: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 10: Plagiarism, or Not?


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Quiz, Part II: Applications (Multiple Choice)

Instructions: Read the following passage from a journal article, and then, in items #1 through #10, compare the exact words of this passage with passages that have been taken directly from students' papers. One "example" is given before the graded questions and passages (2 points each) begin. Finally, answer the multiple-choice question about possible plagiarism in each passage. At least one student paper is not "plagiarized," but has violated expectations to cite sources in complete and correct APA style. Each of your answers is worth 2 points. When you are ready to begin, please click on "Quiz me" to answer each question.


Passage from a journal article:

The public is now coming to realize that behavioral risks are the most important influence on individual health, and the greatest cause of death. Governmental representatives, as well as insurance companies, however, are spurring the public on to accept a simplistic solution to health problems: we must blame the victim. Public health officials have long known that badgering and blaming cannot yield positive results, yet certain states have recently passed legislation to reduce health-care benefits to Medicaid recipients who are deemed to be living an unhealthy lifestyle. The state of Kentucky is considering legislation that would, on the contrary, charge a lower co-pay to Medicaid recipients who demonstrate healthy lifestyles. Morally these policies carry some weight, but they amount to "blame the victim" strategies that in the end will neither reduce health costs nor promote healthy lifestyles.

---from "Medicaid Wars: The Battle Rages On," by Willa T. Stanford, an article that appears on pages 342-356. This excerpt is on page 354 of volume 22, issue number 9, of the journal Public Health Journal of America, in an issue that was published in September 2013.


(Example) Passage from a student's paper:

Stanford prefers pragmatic solutions to moral patronizing; according to Stanford, penalizing Medicaid recipients for unhealthy lifestyle choices is a policy that "Morally carries weight and uses 'victim' strategies" (2013, p. 354).


___This passage has not plagiarized, and it contains no errors in APA style, either.

___This passage has not plagiarized, but it contains one error in APA style: the author's name "Stanford" needs to appear in parentheses before "2013."

___Yes, this passage has plagiarized because the title of Stanford's article has not been identified.

_x_Yes, this passage has plagiarized because the quotation in the passage misrepresents Stanford's (2013) actual words; words have been left out of the original quotation, but no ellipsis points (...) are included; in addition, the form of the word "carry" has been changed, but this change has not been indicated with square brackets, as in "carr[y]."


Case Study 11: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)

 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 12: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 13: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 14: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 15: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 16: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 17: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 18: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 19: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question

Case Study 20: Error in APA Style? Plagiarism? Neither?

Multiple choice (2 points)


 Toggle open/close quiz question