Giving credit where credit is due. As writers, we know this is more than a maxim. Improperly cited sources could, in some cases, cost you your career, your passing grade, even your reputation. It makes no difference if you are an online content producer, an editorial writer for a fashion magazine, a student writing an essay, or a nuclear physicist writing advanced research papers; anytime you are using references from an outside source, you must cite that source correctly to avoid committing source-based plagiarism.

What Is Source-Based Plagiarism?

Source-based plagiarism is one form of plagiarism. It happens when a writer (intentionally or unintentionally) does not cite a source fully and accurately. This could mean stating a fact that’s supported by two different sources, but only mentioning one of them; it could mean referencing a source that is incorrectly named or simply doesn’t exist; or it could mean utilizing a secondary source of information but citing the primary source as a reference on your document.

This tricky truth-bending sometimes intentionally bolsters the references section or increases the number of citations. Other times, it is simply an oversight or mistake. Falsifying your sources in any way is a serious offense. If you wish to produce original work with a clean conscience, you must properly cite your sources.

Know Your Citation Styles

It helps to be familiar with different types of citation styles, especially which one(s) apply to your field and publication. Numerous citation styles have evolved over the years and are used in different disciplines. You are likely already familiar with the more common ones such as APA, MLA, and Chicago Style (see a comprehensive list of citation styles and when to use them on the University of Washington’s website). If you are unsure, it helps to check in with whoever assigned you the work (your professor or your publisher, for example).

APA (American Psychiatric Association) Style and MLA (Modern Language Association) Style are in-text citation formats. The writer, utilizing one of the two styles, will provide essential information in parenthesis directly after a quote (in quotation marks) or paraphrase. A full citation of sources will then appear at the end of the paper in a “References” or “Works Cited” section. A common alternative to in-text citations, like APA or MLA, is the Chicago Style. The Chicago Style employs footnote references and is often seen in historical writings. Read a little more about these three styles here.

How to Avoid Source-Based Plagiarism

The truth is that including citations and formatting a Works Cited or References section can sometimes bog down the writing process. For inexperienced writers or students, this can sometimes mean they avoid the task or do it incorrectly, and without realizing it, they’ve suddenly committed source-based plagiarism. However, students must understand the importance of properly citing sources and giving credit to other writers and researchers for their work. If you or your students need help formatting citations, utilizing a citation generator makes properly referencing sources a total breeze.

Source-based plagiarism can extend beyond just improper citations. It’s tempting to find good content and think that if you tweak the wording a little bit and add a source citation, you’re good to go. However, paraphrasing can end up being a trap if you’re not careful. The goal of paraphrasing is to reconvey the core idea. Make sure that you understand the underlying concept or message of the text you’re referencing, and then put it into words that are all your own.

What you want is good, original paraphrasing accompanied by a proper citation; do not simply rearrange another writer’s sentences. When using a direct quote, put the exact text inside quotation marks and cite the source. Be sure to indicate the upcoming quotation with a word or phrase like “in the words of…”, “stated…” or “directly quoted…”, etc. This short post from Lindsey Wilson College gives a great rundown on some of these scenarios, with examples and comparisons. It is easy to accidentally plagiarize, and it is always a good idea to utilize a plagiarism checker like Quetext to make sure your work is 100% original.

Disciplinary Actions for Plagiarism

Bottom line, plagiarism is theft. To reproduce someone else’s work as your own words or original idea without attribution to the author is not only disrespectful, it is downright criminal. Plagiarism is often considered a misdemeanor offense, punishable by fines of up to $50,000 (and as low as $100 in less severe cases). Depending on the severity of the crime, however, plagiarism can go all the way to the federal courts.

Plagiarism is not just a concern for the academic and print worlds. Even if you’re an online content producer, you are responsible for crediting other people’s work properly. Copyright protection exists as soon as an author creates original content in any medium, and this goes for web as well as print. Digital content is subject to the same copyright protections as print content, and none of it needs to have the copyright symbol to be officially copyrighted. So when drawing sources from the web, be sure to reference them properly as you would with any other print medium.

For anyone who may be earning money off their content, keep this in mind, too: if you plagiarize copyrighted material as your own work and earn more than $2,500 from that copied material, you could be facing up to $250,000 in fines and up to ten years in jail. Often, situations like these will see the plagiarizer resign from their position and leave the public eye. However it plays out, neither scenario is something any writer wants to face in their career.

One of Many Common Types of Plagiarism

It may be common knowledge that plagiarism is bad, but many people don’t realize that plagiarism comes in many forms. Complete plagiarism, also known as direct plagiarism, is the act of taking someone else’s exact work and putting your name on it. This intentional deception is what most of us think of as plagiarism, but as we’ve discussed today, other forms of plagiarism can be committed accidentally and still pose a threat to your career and reputation.

The best way to avoid source-based plagiarism and all other different types of plagiarism in your writing is to be informed. Take a look at each of the variations below to learn what it is and see examples of plagiarism types.

Writers of all backgrounds and disciplines—especially high school and university students who are focused on their academic integrity—must understand their responsibility to properly cite and reference sources. Quetext takes the headache out of that process by giving you an easy-to-use plagiarism-detection software to scan for plagiarism and generate citations.