Plagiarism vs. Paraphrasing: Keep Your Writing Ethical and Legal

Understanding the difference between plagiarism vs. paraphrasing is vital for the modern writer.

With so much information out there, you need to know that you are using your sources accurately when summarizing someone else’s thoughts or quoting them directly.

Both plagiarism and paraphrasing are common in the modern writing world. In order to avoid plagiarism, which is unethical and illegal, and use paraphrasing as a tool, not a crutch, you must understand what they mean and how you might end up doing one or both of them. If you like this article, don’t forget to read our guide to the best plagiarism checkers.

Plagiarism Vs. Paraphrasing: Defining Your Terms

Plagiarism Vs. Paraphrasing

Defining terms is helpful in any discussion of words. However, to understand plagiarism and paraphrasing, you must understand what they are.

The definition of plagiarism is using another person’s words or ideas and making them appear like your own. On the other hand, paraphrasing is putting someone else’s words or ideas into your own words, but not necessarily making them appear as your own because you properly cite the source used. 

Examples of Plagiarism

So how does plagiarism look in your writing? The most obvious example is if you copy and paste something out of an online article and put it into your own, claiming that you wrote it or thought of it. Other examples of plagiarism include:

  • Using someone’s original idea but not citing it.
  • Quoting someone directly without using quotation marks or citing the source.
  • Keeping your wording too close to the wording of the original author. 
  • Buying a paper written by someone else and passing it off as your own.
  • Keeping sentence structure the same but using synonyms to trick a plagiarism checker.

Here is a more specific example of what plagiarism might look like. If you find an original passage that says:

  • Plagiarism is illegal. If you take someone else’s words or ideas and try to pass them off as your own without proper in-text citation, you are guilty of this action.

If you turn this around and say:

  • It’s illegal to plagiarize. Taking someone else’s words and ideas and claiming them as your own, unless you use a proper in-text citation, makes you guilty.

You have plagiarized because this is the same idea and almost the same wording as the original author.

Examples of Paraphrasing

Plagiarism vs. paraphrasing

Paraphrasing can look a lot like plagiarism. There is one significant difference, though, and that is the citation of the original author. 

In the above example, you would be paraphrasing with one small change. Simply say:

  • According to, it’s illegal to plagiarize. So taking someone else’s words and ideas and claiming them as your own, unless you use the proper in-text citation, makes you guilty.

Here, you have rephrased the statement and credited the source, so this is a paraphrase.

How to Learn Effective Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing isn’t as simple as re-writing someone’s work and putting it in your own words. To paraphrase effectively and avoid plagiarism, you must practice.

Effective paraphrasing works best when you read an entire work in full, then try to summarize what you read in your own words without looking at the original source. If you’ve captured the essence of the idea, then you paraphrased effectively. Always give the author’s name or a citation if the ideas are not common knowledge.

The Problem of Common Knowledge

One fact that makes this whole process a little confusing is the idea of common knowledge. Common knowledge is information that is accepted as well-known in the public domain. Therefore, these facts do not need citations.

So what is a sign that something is common knowledge? Here are some thoughts:

  • The fact is something the reader would already know.
  • The fact is widely accepted, such as the idea that Christmas is in December.
  • You can find the fact through many common information sources.
  • It comes from a story people know well, like Cinderella.
  • Your audience has some form of technical knowledge that makes the fact well-known in their field, even if the general public would not know it.

How Plagiarism and Paraphrasing Overlap

You may be thinking that plagiarism is only directly quoting someone without giving them credit. However, while this is plagiarism, you can actually be guilty of the error when you attempt to paraphrase because the two overlap.

Here are some times when paraphrasing becomes plagiarism:

  • You rephrase someone else’s original idea in your own words, but don’t give them credit.
  • You keep your sentence structure and wording too similar to the other source without showing it as a direct quote. 

In both of these instances, even though you did not quote word-for-word, you are guilty of plagiarizing. 

If in Doubt, Cite It!

The question of whether you are paraphrasing or need to cite to void plagiarism can get tricky. Many writers aren’t aware of what is common knowledge in their audience or the public domain in general. The best rule of thumb is to cite it. If you’re unsure, cite it.

Keep in mind that you will need to cite using the citation method assigned for the project. In addition, APA and MLA both have their own citation rules that you should follow when giving attribution for an author’s ideas or direct quotation. Follow these when giving proper credit to your source material in a research paper or other written work.

Using AI Writing Software To Help With Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is ethically acceptable, as long as you use your own words and credit the source; however, it can be hard to do well. Programs like Jasper.AI or WordTune can help with paraphrasing. 

Jasper.AI uses artificial intelligence to generate copy that may paraphrase other works but is guaranteed free from plagiarism. Although this tool doesn’t work well for academic writing, it can help with the writing process for marketing copy.

WordTune helps diversify writing and paraphrasing by using AI to rephrase sentences. So if you are struggling to paraphrase well, this tool can help.

Using AI Grammar Checkers For Plagiarism Detection

If you are going to make a living writing or do well in school with written assignments, you need to learn to avoid plagiarism. Unfortunately, even the best writers can unintentionally find themselves guilty of different types of plagiarism, which is why some tools can help.

Most grammar checkers, like Grammarly, have built-in plagiarism detectors. After writing a piece, consider plugging it into one of these to check your grammar and ensure it is free from plagiarism. If something flags for plagiarism, add a citation or rephrase it to void the plagiarism.

A Final Word on Plagiarism vs. Paraphrasing

If you write someone else’s exact words and claim them as your own, you probably know you’re guilty of plagiarism, but sometimes paraphrasing isn’t so clear. Any time you use someone else’s thoughts or ideas and pass them off as your own, without citing the original author or source, you are guilty of plagiarism.

Plagiarism is illegal and carries stiff penalties, especially in academic settings. To avoid it, make sure you cite whenever you are unsure. You can also use online tools to scan your work to ensure you didn’t inadvertently plagiarize.

FAQs About Plagiarism Vs. Paraphrasing

Is paraphrasing considered plagiarism?

Paraphrasing when you use someone’s ideas and do not give them credit for it, or when you barely change the structure of someone else’s writing, is still plagiarism. The exception to this is facts that are common knowledge.

Does TurnItIn detect plagiarism?

Yes, TurnItIn is a tool that scans academic work to check for plagiarism. Some college professors will offer TurnItIn as a tool for their students to use, or they will use it themselves to hold students accountable.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.