26 Read: Avoiding Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

I know one thing–that a certain amount of pride always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride protects… [someone] from deliberately stealing other people’s ideas.

That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for… [someone] –and admirers had often told me I had nearly a basketful–though they were rather reserved as to the size of the basket.
– Mark Twain, “Unconscious Plagiarism” speech, 1879

person on phone iwth notes out.LEARNING Outcomes

Students Will:

  • Read about plagiarism
  • Compare and contrast different forms of academic dishonesty
  • Identify consequences of academic dishonesty
  • Consider how to conduct ethically integrate research into their speeches and written materials
  • Demonstrate their ability to create main points that ethically integrated outside information into their speeches


Ethics and Speeches: Why we State Who, Where & When

You are asked in your presentations to share well-organized information with supporting materials adapted to the audience, occasion, and assignment. In doing so, you will research your topic while integrating outside information with your personal, interior lived experiences, observations, and viewpoints. The idea is to demonstrate your experience as well as research. You will bridge personal experience with data, storytelling, narratives, testimony, and other supports drawing from experience. Doing so will help the audience understand what materials are your ideas, what ideas are “common knowledge,” and ideas that are unique to another speaker, organization, researcher, or print source and will need to cite in your speech. As former Rochester, MN Superintendent Dr. Michael Muñoz stated, “…all individuals – not just students – sometimes take “short cuts.” However, consider his contrary actions on Dec. 2020, as noted in the news report below.

In this instance, Dr. Muñoz, the school district’s top administrator, needed to admit to his use of plagiarized materials in his email. The American Psychological Association (2023) defines plagiarism as “… the act of presenting the words, ideas, or images of another as your own; it denies authors or creators of content the credit they are due.” Whether deliberate or unintentional, plagiarism violates ethical standards in scholarship (see APA Ethics Code Standard 8.11, Plagiarism). While many are “… not the first to use others’ words as [their] own…,” students are not accustomed to hearing academic leaders steal the words or ideas of another writer or speaker. The Superintendent, once exposed, received a “restorative practice plan,” and was disciplined by the school board. Muñoz apologized to the school board and talked with students, yet did not continue employment at Rochester Public Schools. Just like writing an email, your words should be your own when giving a speech to your classmates or other audiences. You cannot pass the work of another as your own. When you include words and ideas that others have used, you must note who said it, where it came from, and when it was stated – in a speech, this is an oral citation – likewise, in your written work, you should do so as well. We will explore how to cite academically and ethically in this chapter. As a result of reading this chapter, students will have a clearer idea of how to cite in oral presentations.

Section 1: What is Plagiarism?

(Tucker, Barton, & Tindall, 2019)

The following materials are shared through the creative commons license and are authored by Tucker, Barton, & Tindall, 2019 in the OER Book Exploring Public Speaking: 4th Edition.

Defining Plagiarism

Although there are many ways that you could undermine your ethical stance before an audience, the one that stands out and is committed most commonly in academic contexts is plagiarism. A dictionary definition of plagiarism would be “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person” (Merriam-Webster, 2015). According to the student help website Plagiarism.org, sponsored by WriteCheck, plagiarism is often thought of as “copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas” (“What is Plagiarism?”, 2014). However, this source goes on to say that the common definition may mislead some people.

Plagiarism also includes:

• Turning in someone else’s work as your own;
• Copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit;
• Failing to put quotation marks around an exact quotation correctly;
• Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation;
• Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit;
• Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.

Plagiarism exists outside of the classroom and is a temptation in business, creative endeavors, and politics. However, in the classroom, your instructor will probably take the most immediate action if he or she discovers your plagiarism either from personal experience or through using plagiarism detection (or what is also called “originality checking”) software. Many learning management systems, perhaps such as the one used at your institution, now have a plagiarism detection program embedded in the
function where you submit assignments. In the business or professional world, plagiarism is never tolerated because using original work without permission (which usually includes paying fees to the author or artist) can end in serious legal action. The Internet has made plagiarism easier and thus increased the student’s responsibility to know how to cite and use source material correctly.

Types of Plagiarism

In our long experience of teaching, we have encountered many instances of students presenting work they claim to be original and their own when it is not. We have also seen that students often do not intend to plagiarize but, due to poor training in high school, still are committing an act that could result in a failing grade or worse. Generally, there are three levels of plagiarism: stealing, sneaking, and borrowing. Sometimes these types of plagiarism are intentional, and sometimes they occur unintentionally (you may not know you are plagiarizing). However, as everyone knows, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it.” So let’s familiarize you with how plagiarism occurs in order to prevent it from happening.


There is a saying in academia: “If you steal from one source, that is plagiarism; if you steal from twelve, that is scholarship.” Whoever originated this saying may have intended for it to be humorous, but it is a misrepresentation of both plagiarism and scholarship. No one wants to be the victim of theft; if it has ever happened to you, you know how awful it feels. When a student takes an essay, research paper, speech, or outline completely from another source, whether it is a classmate who submitted it for another instructor, from some sort of online essay mill, or from elsewhere, this is an act of theft no better or worse than going into a store and shoplifting. The wrongness of the act is compounded by the fact that then the student lies about it being his or her own. If you are tempted to do this, run the other way. Your instructor will probably have no mercy on you, and probably neither will the student conduct council.

Most colleges and universities have a policy that penalizes or forbids “self-plagiarism.” This means that you can’t use a paper or outline that you presented in another class a second time. You may think, “How can this be plagiarism or wrong if I wrote both and in my work I cited sources correctly?” The main reason is that by submitting it to your instructor, you are still claiming it is original, first-time work for the assignment in that particular class. Your instructor may not mind if you use some of the same sources from the first time it was submitted, but he or she expects you to follow the instructions for the assignment and prepare an original assignment. In a sense, this situation is also a case of unfairness, since the other students do not have the advantage of having written the paper or outline already.

Another issue that often comes up with students happens when two or more students, perhaps in the same section or different sections of the same course and same instructor, submit the same assignment. When confronted, the student say, “We worked on it together.” If your instructor wants you to work collaboratively, he or she will make that clear. Otherwise, do not do this–the situation usually ends quite badly for students.


In “sneaking plagiarism,” instead of taking work as a whole from another source, the student will copy two out of every three sentences and mix them up so they don’t appear in the same order as in the original work. Perhaps the student will add a fresh introduction, a personal example or two, and an original conclusion. This “sneaky” plagiarism is easy today due to the Internet and the word processing functions of cutting and pasting. In fact, many students do not see this as the same thing as stealing because they think “I did some research, I looked some stuff up, and I added some of my own work.” Unfortunately, this approach is only marginally better than stealing and will probably end up in the same penalties as the first type of plagiarism. Why? Because no source has been credited, and the student has “misappropriated” the expression of the ideas as well as the ideas themselves. Interestingly, this type of plagiarism can lead to copyright violation if the work with the plagiarism is published.

Most of the time students do not have to worry about copyright violation when they correctly use and cite material from a source. This is because in academic environments, “fair use” is the rule. In short, you are not making any money from using copyrighted material, such as from a published book. You are only using it for learning purposes and not to make money, so “quoting” (using verbatim) with proper citation a small amount of the material is acceptable for a college class.

If, however, you were going to try to publish and sell an article or book and “borrowed” a large section of material without specifically obtaining permission from the original author, you would be guilty of copyright violation and by extension make your organization or company also guilty. When you enter your career field, the “fair use” principle no longer applies and you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holder and pay fees to use all or portions of a work. For more information on this very important and often misunderstood subject, visit the Creative Commons website and the Library of Congress.

One area in speeches where students are not careful about citing is on their presentational slides. If a graphic or photo is borrowed from a website (that is, you did not design it), there should be a citation in small letters on the slide. The same would be true of borrowed quotations, data, and ideas. Students also like to put their “works cited” or “references” on the last slide, but this really does not help the audience or get around the possibility of plagiarism.


The third type of plagiarism is “borrowing.” In this case, the student is not stealing wholesale. He or she may actually even give credit for the material, either correctly or incorrectly. He might say, “According to the official website of . . .” or “As found in an article in the Journal of Psychology, Dr. John Smith wrote . . .” Sounds good, right? Well, yes and no. It depends on whether the student has borrowed in a “sneaky way” (cutting and pasting passages together but this time indicating where the sections came from) or if the student is using the ideas but not the exact wording. In other words, has the student adequately, correctly, and honestly paraphrased or summarized the borrowed material, or just “strung the sources together” with some “according to’s”?

Students often are puzzled about what and when to cite borrowed material from sources. At this point, your instructor may have specific instructions, and you should always follow those first. However, in most cases you can go by the “repeated information” rule. If you are doing research and access ten sources, and over half of them have the same piece of information (usually a historical or scientific fact or statistic), you can assume this is “common knowledge.” That is, it is common to anyone who knows anything about the subject, and then you do not have to have a citation. If you find a piece of information in one source only, it probably represents the original research or viewpoint of that writer, and should be cited clearly. On the other hand, there are exceptions. An often-cited or used piece of information has an original source, such as a government agency, and you would be better off to find the original source and cite that. Secondly, citing sources adds to your credibility as a prepared speaker. Again, your instructor’s directions on what and how much you cite bear upon this advice. Generally, it is better to err on the side of citing more than less.


Tucker, Barbara; Barton, Kristin; Burger, Amy; Drye, Jerry; Hunsicker, Cathy; Mendes, Amy; and LeHew, Matthew, “Exploring Public Speaking: 4th Edition” (2019). Communication Open Textbooks. 1. https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/communication-textbooks/1

Available at
https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=communication-textbooks, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.





  1. Read the materials above on plagiarism
  2. For more information on plagiarism, read the University of Oxford unit on plagiarism
  3. Visit RCTC’s Academic Integrity Policy
  4. See an MN State University Policy Academic Integrity Policies and Procedures
  5. Identify your instructor’s policy on academic dishonesty, academic integrity, and/or plagiarism


  1. What are the 3 types of plagiarism in this chapter’s content?
  2. List the 8 different types of plagiarism listed in the Oxford University unit.
  3. Now, look to the Metropolitan State University policy, and compare and contrast the Metropolitan State University Section 5, “Definition of Violations” to the content of the 2 resources. How are these definitions similar and different?
  4. What are the course-specific consequences of plagiarism and/or academic dishonesty for this class (hint: see your course syllabus).


  1. Determine how your instructor will have you share this information for the class.


professor Dan West shares advice on how to cite your sources correctly


To demonstrate the 3 types of plagiarism, stealing, sneaking, and borrowing, we will use a passage from the OER book Intercultural Communication Competence (Halverson-Wente & Halverson-Wente, 2023) that we wrote

“Intercultural communication depends first upon knowledge of oneself, one’s culture, and the interrelationship between the two. This interrelationship is the foundation for meaningful intercultural communication from the “self” with the “other.” Interrelationship, then, involves knowledge of the other’s culture, i.e., a knowledge of the same cultural concepts mentioned above, used to understand one’s own culture, can now be focused on the culture of the other. Such knowledge allows for better, more informed questioning and dialogue by enabling the student to ask relevant and valuable questions to learn about the “other” and their culture.”


Imagine the speaker found the quote above and is using the information about intercultural communication in their speech. Which of the samples below demonstrates a correct oral citation?

Sample 1:

  • Research shows that intercultural communication is an important concept to concern. It really does depend upon the first knowledge of oneself, it’s culture, and the relationship between the two. This is a common definition that individuals use throughout different communication textbooks and you can find these textbooks online.

Sample 2:

  • Transcript coming…

Sample 3:

  • Transcript coming…

Sample 4:

  • Transcript coming…



  • Which statement uses correct citations that include, “Who, where, and when” the original materials were found?
  • Which statement sounds like “sneaking” plagiarism, why?
  • Which statement echos the notion of, “stealing” plagiarism, and why?
  • Which statement indicates tactics used with “borrowing,” and why?

Learning More About Plagiarism

Avoiding Plagiarism:

Using Correct Citations

Citation of Sources

More Information

For more information on plagiarism, read:

Works Cited

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Plagiarism. APA Style. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/citations/plagiarism

Minnesota State University. (2022). Academic Integrity Annual Report FY21. Metropolitan State University. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.metrostate.edu/sites/default/files/2022-03/Academic%20Integrity%20Annual%20Report%20FY21_Final.pdf

Oxford University. (n.d.). Plagiarism. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/academic/guidance/skills/plagiarism

Tucker, B., Barton, K., & Tindall, D. K. (2019). Exploring Public Speaking. Galileo Open Learning Materials. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=communication-textbooks


Tucker, B., Barton, K., & Tindall, D. K. (2019). Exploring Public Speaking. Galileo Open Learning Materials. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=communication-textbooks

As noted above, the highlighted areas were shared through the creative commons license and are authored by Tucker, Barton, & Tindall, 2019 in the OER Book Exploring Public Speaking: 4th Edition.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

The Public Speaking Resource Project Copyright © 2018 by Lori Halverson-Wente and Mark Halverson-Wente is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book