What is plagiarism?

Taking someone's ideas and representing them as your own is considered plagiarism in the United States; it is considered a significant breach of ethics by both professional and academic communities.  

When in doubt, cite it.

Are there any exceptions to this rule?  In the U.S., the short answer is, no.  Using someone's ideas as if they were your own is always plagiarism. 

  • If you do it accidentially -- it's still plagiarism.

  • If you put someone's ideas into your own words and do not give them credit --  it's still plagiarism.

  • If someone's ideas are expressed visually (as photographs, tables, drawings, graphics, diagrams, etc.) and you use them as your own -- it's still plagiarism.

  • If someone's idea is used in a speech, conversation or letter and never published anywhere and you use it as your own -- it's still plagiarism.

Now, is everything you read in your sources someone else's idea?  No.  Simple facts like "the earth rotates around the sun," which can be easily verified in multiple credible sources, do not need to be cited even if they appear in a book or article you've read.  

Taking somone else's analysis, interpretation, discovery, judgment or evaluation of those facts (or of anything else) as your own - that's plagiarism.  A good rule to follow is this -- when in doubt, cite it.

Is plagiarism the same all over the world?

No, it is not.  Different cultures and communities have their own norms that shape how information is shared and communicated.  They do not all emphasize the importance of giving credit to the original source of an idea, quotation or concept in the same way.  As a student and a scholar in the United States, you are part of a community that does place a high degree of importance on careful, accurate citations.  To be successful, you need to meet those expecations.