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Plagiarism 101: Home

This guide instructs on the basics of plagiarism.

Defining Plagiarism:

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that plagiarism is, "The action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft."

In order to avoid plagiarizing an author's work use quotations around exact words from the work, and when paraphrasing you must cite and give credit to the source within your work.


SRC Policy

Spoon River College's Student Handbooks states, "Academic misconduct generally refers to behavior in which an individual cheats, plagiarizes, or otherwise falsely represents someone else’s work as his or her own."

If you misrepresent someone else's work as your own, there can be serious consequences that will follow you throughout your academic career. SRC's Student Handbook, page 30 discusses more on plagiarism and it's consequences.     

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

The Purdue Online Writing Lab developed the following list to help you avoid plagiarism:

 What needs to be credited or documented-

  • Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, Web page, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium
  • Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing
  • When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • When you reuse or repost any electronically-available media, including images, audio, video, or other media

Bottom line, document any words, ideas, or other productions that originate somewhere outside of you.

There are, of course, certain things that do not need documentation or credit, including:

  • Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject
  • When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments
  • When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
  • When you are using "common knowledge," things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents)
  • When you are using generally-accepted facts, e.g., pollution is bad for the environment. Facts that are accepted within particular communities, e.g., in the field of composition studies, "writing is a process" is a generally-accepted fact.

If you are unsure, ask your instructor!

Common Knowledge?

What is Common Knowledge?

You may have heard people say that you do not have to cite your source when the information you include is "common Knowledge. But what is common knowledge?

Broadly speaking, common knowledge refers to information that the average, educated reader would accept as reliable without having to look it up. This includes:

  • Information that most people know, such as that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or that Barack Obama was the first American of mixed race to be elected president.
  • Information shared by a cultural or national group, such as the names of famous heroes or events in the nation’s history that are remembered and celebrated.
  • Knowledge shared by members of a certain field, such as the fact that the necessary condition for diffraction of radiation of wavelength from a crystalline solid is given by Bragg’s law.

             ♦ However, what may be common knowledge in one culture, nation, academic discipline or peer group may not be common knowledge in another. 

How do I determine if the information I am using is common knowledge?

To help you decide whether information can be considered common knowledge, ask yourself:

  • Who is my audience?

  • What can I assume they already know?

  • Will I be asked where I obtained my information?

Some examples:

  • A description of the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome would need to be cited for a composition in a general writing class but probably not need citation for an audience of graduate students in psychology.

  • A reference to the practice of fair value accounting would be understood by a group of economists, but would need citation to an audience of non-experts.

  • A statement reporting that 24% of children under the age of 18 live in households headed by single mothers would need to be cited. This is information that would not be known to the average reader, who would want to know where the figure was obtained.

The best advice is: When in doubt, cite your source.
(source: MIT Student Handbook)


Cite Words and Ideas

deLaplante, Kevin. (2010). Avoiding plagiarism: What do I need to cite? Retrieved from:

Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

tip image

Start early - the longer you put off that paper, the more tempting it will be to take shortcuts and plagiarize.

Keep track - you might have every intention of crediting a source, but you can't remember where you found it. Keep track of all the information you plan to use in one place, such as a Word or Google document. 

When in doubt, cite - you can always ask your instructor or librarian if you need help. 


This Citation Guide has directions on formatting your reference page. 

Learn More About Plagiarism

This guide from can teach you more about plagiarism. 


Jeannette Glover's picture
Jeannette Glover
Russell Learning Resource Center
23235 N. County Highway 22
Canton, IL 61520

Creator Attribution

Created by Marla Turgeon