What is Plagiarism?

During your academic career at MIT, you will write original papers and give oral presentations that require research in libraries and laboratories and accessing electronic resources. It is important to understand that standards for reusing other people’s creative output vary from discipline to discipline and culture to culture. For example, in the United States our copyright law does not protect ideas or facts, but does protect the particular, original expression of an idea in words or images when they are expressed in a tangible form.

In some cultures, the concept of “owning” words that are arranged in a particular sequence may seem strange. Students from these cultures may have been encouraged to repeat the words of others and incorporate them into their own writing without quoting or otherwise indicating that they came from another source. Other cultures accept the practice of copying phrases or sentences into a paper without using quotation marks as long as the writer shows where they came from. These practices are not acceptable in North American academic culture.

Creative expression of ideas through words, images, and other media is the lifeblood of this academic culture. For this reason, we expect that our original expressions should not be used by others without attribution and acknowledgment.

Plagiarism occurs when you use another’s words, ideas, assertions, data, or figures and do not acknowledge that you have done so.

If you use the words, ideas, or phrasing of another person or from published material, you must

  • Use quotation marks around the words and cite the source, or
  • Paraphrase or summarize acceptably and cite the source.

If you use charts, graphs, data sets, or numerical information obtained from another person or from published material, you must also cite the source.

You must always acknowledge your sources by citing them. In this way, you have the right to use another’s creative output by giving that person credit for the work s/he has done.