Inspiration & Plagiarism: Know the Difference

Cindy Bates 2m 559 #plagiarism

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Bart Simpson Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of copying the ideas of another person. The Internet has plagiarism detectors, but it has lead people to think that plagiarism only counts when a person copies word for word (verbatim). This is not true, as copying themes and ideas may also be plagiarism. For example, if you were to write a book called, “Billy and the cloneasaurus” about dinosaurs brought back to life with advanced cloning techniques, then you would still be plagiarizing Jurassic Park, even if you did rewrite every word.

Inspiration is something that happens within a person, but it may be prompted by certain external factors. Using someone else’s writing to inspire you is not plagiarism, but just how much “inspiration” you get and how much you actually take away from it all may create plagiarism.

Copy one and it’s plagiarism, copy many and its research

This is an old saying and is rather telling of the state of current academic essays. Most essays will score highly when they are nothing more than a curation of other texts and works in one place.

Copying the ideas of others is plagiarism

An idea is something that another person has and to a certain extent they are the ones to own it. Steal that idea and it is still plagiarism, no matter how much you reword it. If you give credit to the person that came up with the idea and cite that person in your text, then it may not be considered to be plagiarism.

Standing on the shoulders of giants is not plagiarism

As we stand on the shoulders of giants, we dilute their work because we cannot possibly understand it as well as they did. Still, taking the work of another person and advancing it is not plagiarism, but you will have to cite and refer to the person that created your starting point. There may be many people to refer to in your text, as the giants shoulders you stand upon may have been standing on the shoulders of giants themselves.

Do not cite and you are plagiarizing

You must refer to/cite the when you copy an idea, a piece of text, a piece or work or a quote. If you do not cite then you are plagiarizing because you are taking the credit for something that is not yours.

Build on an idea without citing and you are plagiarizing

The same is true if you are building on an idea. If you do not cite/refer to the person that came up with the original idea, then you are claiming it to be your idea/theory/thought/work, and that is plagiarism.

Summarizing is plagiarizing

Again, just because you summarized or paraphrases does not mean you advanced and does not mean you improved. It means you plagiarized unless you cite/refer to the person that created the work in the first place.

Doing something better is a grey area

Taking what has been done already and improving it is a grey area. There are times when it is plagiarism and times when it is not. Still, in most cases, unless you have reinvented the wheel, it is safe to say that it is probably plagiarism.

About the Author

Cindy Bates is the freelance writer at She also works with students to improve their writing skills.