Boundless Communications

Public Speaking Ethics



Plagiarism involves the taking of someone else's words or ideas and trying to attribute them as your own.

Learning Objectives

Describe the different forms of plagiarism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Word to the wise: just don't plagiarize. Seriously. Don't do it.
  • Intentional plagiarism isn't as easy to get away with as you think: institutions and companies have ways of detecting whether or not you've plagiarized your work, and it can have serious academic and professional repercussions if you are caught.
  • If you find yourself tempted to nab a couple of lines from one of your research sources, put the full source away. Instead, rely on your own notes and paraphrasing to lessen the temptation to outright copy the work of another.

Key Terms

  • plagiarism: The act of copying another person's ideas, text, or other creative work, and presenting it as one's own, especially without permission.

What is Plagiarism?

This cartoon is a conversation between two characters. One says

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is stealing, plain and simple.

When most students think of plagiarism, they may think of outright copying another's works. However, plagiarism can delve into murky territory that includes everything from wrongful appropriation to blatant thievery. While plagiarism may not be a crime per se, in many academic and professional contexts, plagiarism carries with it serious risks, including expulsion and/or termination from a position, organization, or company.

In its simplest form, plagiarism occurs when someone takes the words or ideas of someone else and attempts to present them as their own. Appropriating a person's work without proper credit is what distinguishes plagiarism from mere citation or quotation. When a writer quotes or cites a person, text, image or other piece of intellectual property, the writer must give credit to where or from whom the quote or idea originated.

The "ideas" part of plagiarism can be especially tricky. Though unlikely, two completely different people may produce the exact same idea at the exact same moment. Inevitably, one person would be guilty of plagiarism. And while this does happen, the instances are few and far between.

Deliberate plagiarism should be avoided in academic and professional settings. To knowingly take the work of others and attribute it as one's own is widely regarded as unethical, unprofessional, and illegal across most industries and organizations. Many academic and professional services can detect whether entire sections of books, articles and other works are published elsewhere, particularly on the World Wide Web. Additionally, if a writer has a unique writing style and author's voice, it can be even easier to identify plagiarism if the content is cut and pasted into a work with a completely different tone and style.

However, unintended plagiarism is more common that one might think. Sometimes the problem stems from working too closely with source material. To avoid unintended plagiarism, writers often develop new content with the aid of notes, as opposed to whole sources such as books, articles, or web pages. Writers also craft original compositions by working off their own notes and paraphrasing.

Avoiding Plagiarism When Using the Internet

In the age of the Internet and social media, it can be both very easy and very tempting to plagiarize. In short: don't.

Learning Objectives

State why plagiarism can be easily detected online

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Just because you can copy and paste a few sentences or paragraphs from an obscure Internet source doesn't mean you should.
  • Many academic institutions and even some professional organizations use online plagiarism detection software, such as CopyScape, Attributor and PlagiarismDetect.
  • Just because you might thwart an online plagiarism detector doesn't mean you don't run the risk of being caught via manual plagiarism detection, either.
  • When in doubt, avoid the temptation to plagiarize despite the seemingly endless availability of content online. Your speech is better served when your words are original and genuine.

Key Terms

  • plagiarism: The act of plagiarizing: the copying of another person's ideas, text or other creative work, and presenting it as one's own, especially without permission.

In Haste? Don't Copy and Paste.

When pressed for time with a looming deadline, you might think a quick copy and paste of a few sentences here or maybe a paragraph there might be an easy solution. While it certainly is easy to Control+C, Control+V your way through a speech, it's certainly not wise.

It might be tempting to fire up your browser and pick a relevant source buried deep within the search results. "Who looks all the way at what's on search page 10? " you may be thinking. Just because it's obscure doesn't mean it's okay to take it and claim it as your own.

If you get caught, you could face serious academic or professional consequences. Plus—on a very plain note—it's just not cool. It's just bad intellectual form. In the age of the Internet, as easy as it can be to just lift something from a relevant but obscure source via Google, it's equally as easy to get caught plagiarizing the words of others.

A screenshot from a Google search that shows how plagiarized material is visible online. Three arrows point to sites that have the exact same text.

Avoiding Plagiarism on the Internet: As tempting as it might be to plagiarize with the vastness of available sources on the Internet - don't do it.

Yes. Yes, You Will Get Caught.

With the advent of complex, proprietary search engine algorithms has come another niche market: plagiarism detection. If you think you can get away with just borrowing a sentence here or there, beware: sites like CopyScape and's software can be used by academics and professionals alike, running your work through their programs to see if anything comes up with a red flag.

And if you think you can fool plagiarism detection software, don't count out manual checking, either. You might pull a sentence or idea from an obscure professional or expert in the field, but keep in mind that your professor is an expert in this field; he or she is likely to have read whatever you're copying.

When in doubt, avoid the temptation to plagiarize despite the seemingly endless availability of content online. Your speech is better served when your words are original and genuine.

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