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What Is Plagiarism? Citing Your Sources

Background Reading

In many countries, it is a sign of respect to use or copy the same words and sentences that you read in your textbook when you're taking a test or writing a paper. Students are rewarded for memorizing large amounts of text and discouraged from having opinions on subjects you've learned about in school.

Memorizing and copying are viewed and treated very differently in the USA. Here, students are taught that using another person's words is the same thing as saying that you are the one who thought of those ideas and words and sentences first. Teachers and professors want to know whether you understand what you have read. Memorizing is not the same thing as understanding what you've memorized. For this reason, American professors really want to know YOUR thoughts when you write a paper, not just the thoughts of experts and scholars! If you do use someone else's words without giving them credit ("citing"), this is called plagiarism.

At VCU, plagiarizing an assignment has penalties including failing your assignment or failing your class. Now is a good time to train yourself to use your own words!


With a classmate or friend, spend 5 minutes discussing and comparing how memorizing and copying is viewed in your home country.

Some examples of plagiarism


Spend 10 minutes writing about how America's views on memorizing and copying differ from your home country's. What do you think will be the hardest parts about learning to write assignments using your own thoughts and words? What are some ways you and your professors can help you be more successful learning to write this way?