A Guide to Plagiarism – What Is It & How Can You Avoid It?

Plagiarism ' the same speech?

Melania Trump and Michelle Obama's speeches in 2016 from CNN

Mariana Trump - wife of US politician Donald Trump - hit the headlines recently after her speech supporting his election as leader of the Republican Party. Unfortunately for her, it was for all the wrong reasons.

Viewers noticed that Mariana’s speech was uncannily similar to Michelle Obama’s speech supporting Barack Obama during his presidential campaign.

Thanks to YouTube, sharp editing and social media, millions from all over the world were soon able to compare the speeches. And they could listen to entire phrases and sentences that Mariana appeared to have taken from Michelle’s speech.

Despite the widespread allegations of plagiarism that followed, Mariana’s press team defended the speech, saying it reflected her “immigrant experience and love for America.” But the damage was already done. A lack of background checks and referencing had led to a severe loss of integrity for the Trump camp.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of stealing someone else’s ideas or words and passing them off as your own. This might mean copying words from media such as websites, books, articles or even emails. But it could also be related to songs, artworks or concepts.

If you are going to use someone else’s work, it’s not only good etiquette; it’s essential that you acknowledge your sources.

And in the academic world, you won’t get off as easily as Trump. Plagiarism can lead to serious consequences. It might not just mean failing an assignment or exam, in some cases students have been disqualified from their course. And it has severely affected the professional credibility and careers of some academics.

So what are the rules for plagiarism?

Plagiarism involves copying more than two consecutive words of text from another source. Not much is it?

Universities and colleges including Oxford Learning College have strict rules on plagiarism. So it’s important that you consider the points below when you are working on a new essay. This will help you add fresh information, perspective and opinions, which support your viewpoint or hypothesis.

How do I avoid plagiarism?

These days we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. But with this available from a wide array of sources, it can be easy to slip up. So there are a few ways you can protect yourself from unwittingly plagiarising.


If you think you can summarise information in your own words while following the ‘two-word rule’, it’s OK to paraphrase. But it’s worth remembering that referring to sources will show a breadth and depth of research.

Refer to your sources

If you go over the ‘two-word rule’, you have a few options:

  • Citing involves referring to the author, their report and its publication date in the body of your essay.

  • Quoting requires that you add quotation marks to a block of text and include the author’s name, source and publication date somewhere in your essay.

  • Referencing is usually done through footnotes or endnotes. Referencing styles and document formats will vary according to your college or university. So it’s worth checking with your tutor to find out what these are.

  • Did you know that you can self plagiarise?

    If you have used an idea or taken some text from another piece of your work, make sure you cite this too. This is still viewed as plagiarism by educational institutions.

    How do I check for plagiarism?

    You can avoid plagiarism by writing down all of your sources, referencing these where relevant, and by checking all written work before submitting it to your tutor.

    Fortunately, a host of free plagiarism checkers are available to take the legwork out of the job. You can either type in text or upload your essay, and they will reference this against billions of online sources.

    It’s worth bearing in mind that, if you are referencing academic journals, online plagiarism checkers may not be able to crosscheck against these. That’s why it’s best to keep track of all of your sources at the research stage. This will also help you avoid paying for in-depth crosschecking services, which tend to be offered by many of the ‘free plagiarism checkers’.

    Need more help planning and writing assignments? Read our Tips for How to Write the Perfect Essay.