Plagiarism and Citation Styles

Washington and Lee University Library

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What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without giving them credit. It is basically literary or creative theft. In fact, the Merriam Webster Dictionary has two definitions of "plagiarize":

  1. "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own use (another's production) without crediting the source
  2. to commit literary theft present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source"


Plagiarism is described in the W&L 2021-2022 Catalog, and cited by the Student Executive Committee, as:

"the use of another's words, figures, or ideas without proper acknowledgment. The students of Washington and Lee University have in many instances considered plagiarism a violation of the Honor System; therefore, all forms of plagiarism including Internet plagiarism are taken very seriously. Students at Washington and Lee must be aware of the nature of plagiarism. Plagiarism takes many forms, including the wholesale copying of phrases, diagrams, or texts, or the use of ideas without indicating the source. Certain facts must also be properly acknowledged."


If you are interested in more information about plagiarism and how to avoid it, detailed advice and examples are provided in the EC's Plagiarism Pamphlet. You might also find one of the many books on this list from the W&L library catalog about plagiarism useful. 

This guide provides links to information about how to use different style guides. Each subject uses one or more standardized styles to formally acknowledge sources of ideas and words. Please use the "Citation Styles" section to get help on a specific style. We recommend students use Zotero to manage citations in papers and presentations. Zotero is a free program that organizes articles and automatically formats your bibliography and internal citations according to whatever style you need. Use the "Zotero Citation Manager" section to learn more about using this great tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is "internet plagiarism?" 

Plagiarism applies to any kind of text, images, videos, music, or other creative and scholarly expression or idea. This includes things you find on the internet. Using other people's work or ideas that you find on social media or the web without properly citing the original source is plagiarism. For instance, if you use a photo from someone else's Instagram account, you have to give credit. 

What facts count as common knowledge? 

The EC's Plagiarism Pamphlet notes, "Some facts that are considered common knowledge do not need to be cited, but you will not be penalized for acknowledging where you verified a fact." ( What counts as "common knowledge" is based on the discipline and your audience. If you are reasonably certain that a fact is accepted by everyone in your class, you may be safe in not citing a source for that fact. An example might be, "Will Dudley is the President of Washington and Lee University." This is common knowledge on our campus - but not anywhere else. The best advice, though, is "When in doubt, cite" ( If you are using a fact in your paper, the safest route is to cite where you got that fact, even if it seems obvious.

What is the difference between plagiarism and copyright? 

These two concepts both refer to using other people's intellectual property improperly. Copyright is a legal concept in the US Constitution that protects authors and creators from having their works be used without permission. It differs from plagiarism in two key ways. First, copyright only protects the words, images, or other works - not ideas. Second, you avoid violating a person's copyright by getting permission to use their words, images, etc. or by meeting a standard called "fair use" - not by citing where you found them. Copyright gets complicated very quickly. If you're interested in learning more we recommend you visit the Office of General Counsel's Copyright and Intellectual Property page: