A Word About Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is when you represent another’s words or ideas as your own. Even copying a short phrase can be considered plagiarism, and certainly if you copy a paragraph or entire pages, this is plagiarism. Of course you will sometimes represent another scholar’s ideas in your written work. This is part of academic writing! But when you use someone else’s words or ideas, you must acknowledge that the idea is not your own through proper citation.

Plagiarism is most common when you lose track of your argument. If your reasoning and argument are not genuinely the result of your own thinking, you’re more likely to use ideas and words that aren’t your own. Don’t let your sources speak for you. The purpose of writing academic papers is to think through and present your own ideas.

Think of it this way: If you were properly citing and quoting, and nearly every sentence in your paper would need a citation, you haven’t thought through your argument. You are simply parroting the words and ideas of the sources you’ve been reading. Take some time between research and writing, do some freewriting about the topic to figure out what you think, and visit the Writing Workshop as you draft your paper. Each of these steps will help you write a paper based on your own ideas.

A note about AI/large language models: The Williams College Writing Center holds that copying text from a large language model and presenting it as your own work is plagiarism. Remember, “plagiarism is when you represent another’s words or ideas as your own.” AI may not be human, but the topics and ideas it generates are not your own original thoughts and ideas. Nor are you likely (or should you aim) to write in the style of a robot.

Note: consult with faculty and check the Honor Code section of your syllabi for course-specific directions on using AI, which may—in some instances—be permitted for specific aspects of the writing process. If permitted, you must cite the AI program you’ve used, in your paper.

Consequences of Plagiarizing

Perhaps the most important consequence of plagiarism is a failure to learn the material. The writing process helps us understand what we’re reading, and when we’re able to put those facts or details into our own words, it’s a sign that we’re getting it. You must still cite your sources, but if you can say it in your own words (known as paraphrasing) you know you’ve mastered the material.

Of course there are other consequences to plagiarizing.

The Williams Honor Code reads, in part: “A student who enrolls at the College thereby agrees to respect and acknowledge the research and ideas of others in his or her work and to abide by those regulations governing work stipulated by the instructor. Any student who breaks these regulations, misrepresents his or her own work, or collaborates in the misrepresentation of another’s work has committed a serious violation of this agreement.”

Plagiarism may result in a failing grade in a course and/or a case being brought to the Honor Committee.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

If you don’t understand the rules for quotation, documentation, and citation, you might plagiarize without realizing it. Reviewing the citation guides on this website can help, but you should always ask someone if you’re unsure of what to do. Contact your professor, a librarian, a writing tutor, or the director of the writing center if you’re not sure how to properly cite your sources.

The Basics:

  • Use quotation marks around words not your own;
  • Block indent longer quotes;
  • Use the style guide recommended by your professor for your citations and bibliography;
  • Even when you use your own words, if the idea is someone else’s, cite it;
  • And finally: don’t ask a robot to write for you.


To learn more, read the Williams Honor Code.

For more about plagiarism, read The Purdue OWL’s overview.

For more about how to cite, read The Williams Library’s Citing Basics, or try the free citation tool Zotero.

For an overview of commonly used citation guides, visit Purdue’s Style Guide Overview