Theft of Knowledge Part I—Plagiarism

By Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood issues in contemporary writing is the concept of plagiarism. Simply defined, plagiarism is the act of using direct quotes, information that you put into your own words, or even ideas without giving the appropriate credit or getting explicit permission. Every Monday for the next three weeks I’ll be looking at different aspects of plagiarism, how it can be avoided, and what the consequences are for “borrowing” other people’s work. Next week, I’ll focus on the student writer and the following week will cover professionals. Today’s blog is an overview., a site devoted to helping people avoid plagiarism, doesn’t mince words: plagiarism is theft. It isn’t funny; it isn’t minor. For students, the penalties can follow you throughout your education and beyond. Most colleges and universities have stiff penalties for plagiarism including failing a class and expulsion. Professionally, it can discredit you and severely damage your career in addition to the possibility law suits and fines.

Often people believe that since words aren’t tangible objects, they can’t be stolen but consider this: if you were a carpenter and built a table, and someone came in your shop and took it—that’s theft, right? You worked hard on the table; you have the cost of the materials and, mostly, your valuable time. A writer spends his or her valuable time writing and rewriting, and editors and other publishing professionals work diligently to get a piece polished and ready for public consumption. If you take those words or ideas, it is stealing. If you still aren’t convinced, how about this? It’s wrong and shows a lack of character on the part of the plagiarizer.

The good news is that there are ways to avoid plagiarism both at the student and professional level.

Although you may use this advice freely, the writing is copyrighted and may not be used without the express permission of Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh. Email her at for more information.

Theft of Knowledge Part I: Plagiarism

Theft of Knowledge Part II: Students

Theft of Knowledge Part III: Professionals


About Stacy Bender

Author of Ursa Kane and the Sav'ine series.
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