We strongly suggest you click on the link above and take this tutorial to learn more about plagiarism (stealing someone else's words without citing) and how to avoid it and other forms of scholarly cheating.
Academic Integrity at the University of Southern California is a tutorial developed in a partnership between USC Libraries and Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards.
Students have 24/7 access to a 15-minute online tutorial providing an overview of academic integrity at USC. A certificate of completion is awarded at the end of tutorial after correctly completing an online quiz. By the end of the tutorial students will know:
Online tutorial is 15 minutes
Assessment quiz takes 5-10 minutes
Print online certificate to turn in to professors
In the United States, giving credit to another author when you mention or directly quote something he or she has written, even if you are only quoting in a class paper that will not be published, is serious business and is governed by federal and state laws, and at USC by policies. Some countries and cultures approach this differently, and it can be an honor to copy an esteemed scholar's work. It is still an honor in the US, but you have to give the scholar credit! If you do not correctly indicate (that is what "cite" means) where you got an idea or a quote, you could be liable to discipline up to and including expulsion at USC.
It is pretty easy today to cite it right, since so many article citation and linking databases will help you construct a citation, so use those resources! (Here is an example from ProQuest, below).
There are different formats for citing other people's work. This can get confusing, we know! Make sure you know what format (for example, MLA, APA, Chicago Manual) your professor wants you to use, and be sure you use it!
For even more detail, we have a whole separate Research Guide on Citations.
Here are some useful definitions from the Libraries' "Academic Integrity Tutorial"
Plagiarism "includes, using someone else’s work without appropriate acknowledgement (such as paraphrasing another’s ideas or text from a book, journal, or electronic resource without providing the appropriate acknowledgment)."
Cheating "is the use of unauthorized assistance within a class or while completing course work – which provides an advantage which has not been provided to every student.... If you attempt to benefit from the work of another or use unauthorized assistance to compete academic work – this does not further your learning and is considered cheating."
Some things are obviously plagiarism and/or cheating, and can get you sent to Student Judicial Affairs for a serious interview, and possibly expelled, things like:
But you need to also be careful with "grey areas" like these:
Don't take the easy way out, think through your ideas, and put them in your own words (or equations), referencing others' works only to reinforce your own points. When in doubt about anything regarding a research paper, ask your professor first. You may also Ask a Librarian for additional assistance.