What is plagiarism?

This handout explains what plagiarism is and outlines steps students can follow to avoid plagiarizing.

What is plagiarism?

At UNC, plagiarism is defined as “deliberate or reckless representation of another’s words, thoughts, or ideas as one’s own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise” (Instrument of Student Judicial Governance 5). Because it is considered a form of cheating, the Office of the Dean of Students can punish students who plagiarize with course failure and suspension. Full information can be found on the UNC Honor System page.

Often when students plagiarize, they do not intentionally steal another person’s work. Instead, they plagiarize by accident because they do not have a complete understanding of what constitutes plagiarism. This is what we mean by “reckless.

” If you fail to give proper credit to someone else’s ideas because you didn’t know you were supposed to or because you didn’t know how to do so, you face the same consequences as if you intentionally stole someone else’s work.

Therefore, it is your responsibility to understand when and how to acknowledge someone else’s contribution.

Why are my instructors so concerned about plagiarism?

In order to understand plagiarism, it helps to understand the process of sharing and creating ideas in the university. All knowledge is built from previous knowledge. As we read, study, perform experiments, and gather perspectives, we are drawing on other people’s ideas.

Building on their ideas and experiences, we create our own. When you put your ideas on paper, your instructors want to distinguish between the building block ideas borrowed from other people and your own newly reasoned perspectives or conclusions.

You make these distinctions in a written paper by citing the sources for your building block ideas.

Providing appropriate citations will also help readers who are interested in your topic find additional, related material to read—in this way, they will be able to build on the work you have done to find sources.

Think of it this way: in the vast majority of assignments you’ll get in college, your instructors will ask you to read something (think of this material as the building blocks) and then write a paper in which you analyze one or more aspects of what you have read (think of this as the new structure you build). Essentially, your instructors are asking you to do three things:

  • Show that you have a clear understanding of the material you’ve read.
  • Refer to your sources to support the ideas you have developed.
  • Distinguish your analysis of what you’ve read from the authors’ analyses.

When you cite a source, you are using an expert’s ideas as proof or evidence of a new idea that you are trying to communicate to the reader.

What about “common knowledge”?

In every professional field, experts consider some ideas “common knowledge,” but remember that you’re not a professional (yet).

In fact, you’re just learning about those concepts in the course you’re taking, so the material you are reading may not yet be “common knowledge” to you.

In order to decide if the material you want to use in your paper constitutes “common knowledge,” you may find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I know this information before I took this course?
  • Did this information/idea come from my own brain?

If you answer “no” to either or both of these questions, then the information is not “common knowledge” to you. In these cases, you need to cite your source(s) and indicate where you first learned this bit of what may be “common knowledge” in the field.

What about paraphrasing?

Paraphrasing means taking another person’s ideas and putting those ideas in your own words.

Paraphrasing does NOT mean changing a word or two in someone else’s sentence, changing the sentence structure while maintaining the original words, or changing a few words to synonyms.

If you are tempted to rearrange a sentence in any of these ways, you are writing too close to the original. That’s plagiarizing, not paraphrasing.

Paraphrasing is a fine way to use another person’s ideas to support your argument as long as you attribute the material to the author and cite the source in the text at the end of the sentence.

In order to make sure you are paraphrasing in the first place, take notes from your reading with the book closed. Doing so will make it easier to put the ideas in your own words.

When you are unsure if you are writing too close to the original, check with your instructor BEFORE you turn in the paper for a grade. So, just to be clear—do you need to cite when you paraphrase? Yes, you do!

How can I avoid plagiarizing?

Now that you understand what plagiarism is, you’re ready to employ the following steps to avoid plagiarizing in your written work.

Step 1: Accentuate the positive. Understand the value of citations

Do you feel that you use too many citations? Too few? Many students worry that if they use too many citations their instructors will think that they’re relying too heavily on the source material and therefore not thinking for themselves. In fact, however, using citations allows you to demonstrate clearly how well you understand the course material while also making clear distinctions between what the authors have to say and your analysis of their ideas.

Thus, rather than making your paper look less intellectually sophisticated, using citations allows you to show off your understanding of the material and the assignment.

And instead of showing what you don’t know, citing your sources provides evidence of what you do know and of the authority behind your knowledge.

Just make sure that your paper has a point, main idea, or thesis that is your own and that you organize the source material around that point.

Are you worried that you have too few citations? Double-check your assignment to see if you have been given any indication of the number or kind of source materials expected. Then share your writing with another reader.

Do you have enough evidence or proof to support the ideas you put forward? Why should the reader believe the points you have made? Would adding another, expert voice strengthen your argument? Who else agrees or disagrees with the ideas you have written? Have you paraphrased ideas that you have read or heard? If so, you need to cite them. Have you referred to or relied on course material to develop your ideas? If so, you need to cite it as well.

Step 2: How can I keep track of all this information? Improve your note-taking skills

Once you’ve reconsidered your position on using citations, you need to rethink your note-taking practices. Taking careful notes is simply the best way to avoid plagiarism. And improving your note-taking skills will also allow you to refine your critical thinking skills. Here’s how the process works:

The Common Types of Plagiarism

Direct plagiarism is the word-for-word transcription of a section of someone else’s work, without attribution and without quotation marks. The deliberate plagiarism of someone else's work is unethical, academically dishonest, and grounds for disciplinary actions, including expulsion. [See examples.]

Self Plagiarism

Self-plagiarism occurs when a student submits his or her own previous work, or mixes parts of previous works, without permission from all professors involved.

For example, it would be unacceptable to incorporate part of a term paper you wrote in high school into a paper assigned in a college course.

Self-plagiarism also applies to submitting the same piece of work for assignments in different classes without previous permission from both professors.

Mosaic Plagiarism

Mosaic Plagiarism occurs when a student borrows phrases from a source without using quotation marks, or finds synonyms for the author’s language while keeping to the same general structure and meaning of the original. Sometimes called “patch writing,” this kind of paraphrasing, whether intentional or not, is academically dishonest and punishable – even if you footnote your source! [See examples.]

Accidental Plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism occurs when a person neglects to cite their sources, or misquotes their sources, or unintentionally paraphrases a source by using similar words, groups of words, and/or sentence structure without attribution. (See example for mosaic plagiarism.

See also:  Abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms

) Students must learn how to cite their sources and to take careful and accurate notes when doing research. (See the Note-Taking section on the Avoiding Plagiarism page.) Lack of intent does not absolve the student of responsibility for plagiarism.

Cases of accidental plagiarism are taken as seriously as any other plagiarism and are subject to the same range of consequences as other types of plagiarism.

How To Avoid Plagiarism

Whether you’re interviewing a subject matter expert or introducing key findings from a report, third-party sources can lend extra authority to your work. There’s a difference, however, between weaving external sources into your writing for clout and misrepresenting the source’s ideas or words as your own.

Here’s why avoiding plagiarism is so important and how to avoid plagiarism in your work.

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What is plagiarism?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the verb “to plagiarize” means:

“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source”

The inclusion of the word “steal” in this definition, includes instances when another’s ideas or words are intentionally used without crediting the source. Even accidentally using another’s ideas or words without proper citation, due to carelessness, falls under this definition since your work tries to “pass off” another’s work as your own.

In our tech-forward culture, the simple act of copy-and-paste can seem harmless, but it has serious consequences in academic and professional settings.

Why should you avoid plagiarism?

At its core, plagiarism is an ethical issue. A writer who submits plagiarized work is committing theft with the hope of benefiting from that theft. This is true whether you’re turning in a school paper to get an “A” or are a writer by trade expecting monetary compensation.

Avoiding plagiarism is paramount as a writer because it compromises your integrity. Aside from losing the respect of your mentors and peers, it could cost you valuable professional referrals and future career advancement. If you’re still in school, plagiarism may result in lost financial aid or leadership roles.

Additionally, it takes credit or profit away from the original creator of the work which may mean more trouble if the source takes legal action against you.

Here’s a tip: Grammarly offers a plagiarism checker that detects plagiarism in your text and checks for other writing issues.

5 ways to avoid plagiarism

Fortunately, it’s not all scary. Avoiding plagiarism is actually easy to do now that you have a foundational understanding of what it is. To help you steer clear of this taboo, here’s how to avoid plagiarism in your writing.

Cite your source

When alluding to an idea or wording that’s not your own, add a citation in your writing that identifies the full name of the source, the date it was published, and any other citation element that’s required by the style guide you’re adhering to.

Include quotations

If you insert a source’s words into your writing, verbatim, one of the most simple yet obvious ways to avoid plagiarism is by using quotation marks around the text to denote that the words aren’t your own. A direct quote should also cite the source so that readers know who the quote is from.


Paraphrasing is rewriting a source’s ideas or information into your own words, without changing its meaning. But be careful—paraphrasing can slip into plagiarism if done incorrectly.

Successfully paraphrasing without plagiarizing involves a bit of a dance. Reword and format your writing in an original way, and try to avoid using too many similar words or phrases from the source. The key is to do so without altering the meaning of the idea itself. Remember, you’re still using another’s idea so you’ll need to include a citation to the source.

Present your own idea

Instead of parroting the source’s ideas or words, explore what you have to say about it. Ask yourself what unique perspective or point you can contribute in your writing that’s entirely your own. Keep in mind that if you’re alluding to a source’s ideas or words to frame your own point, you’ll still need to apply the guidelines above to avoid plagiarizing.

If you’re writing on the same topic for multiple assignments, it can be tempting to recycle some of your previous words—this is called “self-plagiarism”. The risk involved with self-plagiarism is just as high if the publisher or your instructor didn’t give you permission to reuse your old work.

Use a plagiarism checker

While conducting your research on a topic, some phrases or sentences might stick with you so well that you inadvertently include them in your writing without a citation. When in doubt, using an online plagiarism checking tool can help you catch these issues before submitting your work.

There are several plagiarism checkers online, such as the one offered by Small SEO Tools. Grammarly also offers a plagiarism checker that scans your text for borrowed content for free. These tools let you know whether or not parts of your writing are plagiarized—and some even highlight the specific words or sentences of concern and identify where the text originated from.

These suggestions can be helpful in avoiding plagiarism in your work and is worth the effort. In addition to being more aware of what constitutes plagiarism, figuring out how to avoid plagiarism ultimately takes daily practice.

Plagiarism explained | Different types, consequences and tools

Plagiarism is a common problem, primarily among students. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines plagiarism as follows:

Definition“To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: to use (another’s production) without crediting the source”

The two highlighted snippets require further explanation:

  1. Many people think plagiarism is stealing someone else’s words, but it also means stealing someone else’s ideas. In other words, even if you paraphrase a text, the idea still needs to be cited.
  2. The phrase “without crediting the source” means that it’s okay to use the words and ideas of others, but you have to cite the source to avoid committing plagiarism.

Types of plagiarism

Plagiarism takes various forms. It ranges from reusing an entire document to rewriting a single paragraph. In the end, all types of plagiarism come down to passing off someone else’s ideas or words as your own.

Common types of plagiarism

Copy-and-paste plagiarism

Mosaic plagiarism


Global plagiarism

Copy-and-paste plagiarism, also known as direct plagiarism, means using a paragraph from another source without a citation.If you really want to include a passage from another source word for word, you should learn how to quote it.
Copying and pasting different pieces of text together to create a kind of “mosaic” or “patchwork” of other researchers’ ideas is plagiarism.Although the result is a completely new piece of text, the words and ideas aren’t new.
When you use parts of your previous work (e.g. a paper, a literature review or a dataset) without properly citing it, you commit what’s called self-plagiarism.Although it sounds a bit crazy to be penalized for plagiarizing your own work, you should know that it is done because it goes against the expectations of the readers of your paper. They expect the work to be original.
When you use someone else’s paper, you are committing plagiarism because you are pretending that the words and ideas are yours.Using someone else’s work includes, for example, having a friend or family write the text for you or buying an essay from a so-called essay mill.

Consequences of plagiarism

The consequences of plagiarism depend on the type of plagiarism and whether you’re a first-year student, an experienced academic or a working professional.

These are some possible consequences of plagiarism:

  • Failing the course
  • Expulsion or suspension from your university
  • Copyright infringement
  • Ruined reputation and potentially the end of your career

Statements about plagiarism from universities and journals

The consequences of committing plagiarism vary according to the university or journal. Below, you can find statements from American University and the American Marketing Association (AMA). Always check the editorial policies and academic integrity code of your institution.

What Is Plagiarism?

Chris just found some good stuff on the Web for his science report about sharks. He highlights a paragraph that explains that most sharks grow to be only 3 to 4 feet long and can't hurt people. Chris copies it and pastes it into his report. He quickly changes the font so it matches the rest of the report and continues his research.

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Uh-oh. Chris just made a big mistake. Do you know what he did? He committed plagiarism (say: PLAY-juh-rih-zem). Plagiarism is when you use someone else's words or ideas and pass them off as your own. It's not allowed in school, college, or beyond, so it's a good idea to learn the proper way to use resources, such as websites, books, and magazines.

Plagiarism is a form of cheating, but it's a little complicated so a kid might do it without understanding that it's wrong. Chris should have given the author and the website credit for the information. Why? Because Chris didn't know this information before he came to the website. These aren't his thoughts or ideas.

Plagiarism Steals Ideas

The word plagiarism comes from a Latin word for kidnapping. You know that kidnapping is stealing a person. Well, plagiarism is stealing a person's ideas or writing. You wouldn't take someone's lunch money or bike, right? Well, someone's words and thoughts are personal property, too.

What should Chris have done? He should have written down the name of the website and the name of the person who wrote the article. Then he could have added it and given credit to the source.

Teachers have different rules on how you list sources. Sometimes, you provide a list at the end of a report.

Other times, a teacher might want you to list the source immediately after the information you took from that source.

Or you might just make it part of the sentence (for example: “According to the National Institutes of Health, breathing secondhand smoke can cause problems for kids with asthma.”).

All this shouldn't make you nervous to use websites, books, and other sources. It's great that you can get information from experts on stuff you don't know much about. You just have to make sure to show where the information came from. If you do that, you're in the clear.

Plagiarism Definition | What Is Plagiarism?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the act of plagiarism as; “to steal and pass off ideas or words of another as one’s own”. Simply put, plagiarism is the process of taking other people’s words and/or ideas and pretending that they are your own.

An alternative definition of plagiarism is forwarded by the Collins Dictionary which explains that plagiarism is the practice of using someone else’s work and pretending that it is your own.

Plagiarism can also be defined as the act of deliberately trying to deceive your academic tutor by submitting content which is not your own work.

Has Plagiarism Been Getting Worse in Recent Years?

In recent years, chiefly due to the popularity of over the internet assignment purchases, plagiarism has gotten worse.

There has been a spike in plagiarism across much of the academic institutions based in the UK, indeed in the last 3 years alone, 50,000 students have been caught plagiarising.

This figure does not allow for those students who have plagiarised and not been caught thus illustrating the scale of the problem.

Why does it matter?

Plagiarism is a serious problem. If you as a student are caught plagiarising it can have serious consequences for you future academic and work career. Aside from the disciplinary perspective, plagiarism also harms the extent to which you as a student can learn whilst in years of academic study.

When you cheat through plagiarism you are ultimately cheating yourself as you have spoiled the chance to learn and develop your knowledge on a specific subject.

This learning and development skillset could stand you in good stead for later life so from all perspectives, plagiarism is something which should be avoided at all costs.

Common Ways that Students Plagiarise

Handing in an Essay That You Didn’t Write

Typically, the most common trap students fall into is finding an essay online which concerns a similar research topic to which they have been working on and submitting it.

Offline, some students have also relied on individuals from their peer groups to write their academic essay for them.

In either case, these are examples of plagiarism chiefly because the words, ideas and critical arguments contained in those essays are not the work of the individual submitting it.

Furthermore, it is important to note that with the ever-increasing number of essay answer websites the issue of handing in an essay that was written by somebody else has proliferated hugely in recent years. Doing this is easily detectable by academic tutors as they are used to receiving your work written in your own individual style, so it is immediately noticeable when a new writing style appears.

Copy Words or Ideas from Someone Else’s Work, Without Giving Credit

Often in the process of completing academic work, a student will come across an idea or line of work within the existing literature which answers their essay or research question almost exactly.

Students often use such sources verbatim without giving due credit to the original author of the ideas and work.

To avoid falling into this particular trap, students should consider revising how to reference academic content effectively, which is another service in which Viper software provides.

Failing to Put a Quote in Quotation Marks

Some academic students also fall foul of not putting quotes in quotation marks therefore it appears that they have simply copied the work without giving credit to the original author.

When a student takes material from books and academic journals and use it word for word, verbatim, they must ensure that they implement quotation marks.

It is not enough to copy a large section of text and give a reference – you also need to use quotation marks to illustrate that it is a direct quote.

This form of plagiarism although seemingly easy to counteract occurs highly frequently in the world of academia as it is much easier and quicker to insert quotes without referencing them appropriately. Unfortunately, by doing this, it detracts massively from the students work and also results in them being viewed as untrustworthy and inauthentic by the academic institution which they are studying in.

Giving Incorrect Information About the Source of a Quotation

When researching a book or academic journal, it can often be tempting for students to utilise the source list cited by these works to overstate the level of reading which they have carried out.

Unless the student has actually read some of the pieces cited in the source lists of these original texts, this can also be considered as an element of plagiarism.

This is because the student has misrepresented the true extent of their readership out with the classroom and as in-depth reading is an area where a student can attain higher marks, this constitutes a clear act of plagiarism.

Copying Sentence Structure, But Changing Words Around, Without Giving Credit

It is also not enough to simply reword what another academic author has said without reworking the structure of their critical arguments and structure.

This is still considered plagiarism in the world of academia because the student is therefore still guilty of copying the structure of the authors arguments which is a key element of their delivery of ideas.

Moreover, how a sentence is structured is vital to the point in which the author is trying to put across or the analytical comment in which they are trying to advance therefore it is important for the student to showcase that they can restructure the sentence accordingly to put forward their own original idea or interpretation.

Copying so Many Words or Ideas From a Source That it Makes up the Majority of Your Work, Whether You Give Credit or Not

Some students stream large parts of their essay from the work of existing authors in the field.

Despite giving proper credit through referencing, most of their work is still composite of other people’s ideas and critical arguments and the students own critical insights regarding the subject matter never emerge.

It is important for the student to demonstrate that they have the capacity to interpret the complex research topic and rely on their own analytical skills to advance critical comment.

This is where the student can receive high marks because in the world of academia, the disproportionate number of marks are earned through the research being able to critically analyse the theory in which they are studying. If the researcher copies too many ideas or words from other authors it conversely demonstrates that they have limited capacity in being able to advance their own critical viewpoints and judgements.

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Students will benefit from taking an online course which has been developed to provide a useful overview of the issues surrounding plagiarism and practical ways to avoid it.

The necessity to acknowledge others’ work or ideas applies not only to text, but also to other media, such as computer code, illustrations, graphs etc.

It applies equally to published text and data drawn from books and journals, and to unpublished text and data, whether from lectures, theses or other students’ essays.

You must also attribute text, data, or other resources downloaded from websites.

The best way of avoiding plagiarism is to learn and employ the principles of good academic practice from the beginning of your university career. Avoiding plagiarism is not simply a matter of making sure your references are all correct, or changing enough words so the examiner will not notice your paraphrase; it is about deploying your academic skills to make your work as good as it can be.

Forms of plagiarism

Verbatim (word for word) quotation without clear acknowledgementQuotations must always be identified as such by the use of either quotation marks or indentation, and with full referencing of the sources cited. It must always be apparent to the reader which parts are your own independent work and where you have drawn on someone else’s ideas and language.

Cutting and pasting from the Internet without clear acknowledgement

What Is Plagiarism? Definition, Mean & How to Check Plagiarism Online

Despite what many are thought to believe, plagiarism is an act of fraud. The act of plagiarism simply involves taking someone else’s work and/or ideas and using them as your own, rather than giving credit to the rightful owner or receiving consent before taking the material.

Individuals of a range of ages can commit plagiarism, from those in the classroom to those in a working environment. It is often forgotten that it is also possible to self-plagiarize, which highlights the importance of citing your sources correctly.

While the idea of self-plagiarism can seem ridiculous in some sense, it is a very real issue that can have significant consequences. These consequences include destroyed reputation, legal and monetary repercussions and can even result in imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case.

All published and unpublished content is covered under the plagiarism definition, which you can find out more on below.

Plagiarism definition

Plagiarism is defined as the practice of directly copying and then presenting an existing production without accurate citing or referencing, and/or passing off the product as one’s own, without permission from the original producer.

Plagiarism is the most frequent offence under the Academic Code of Conduct, as a result of a lack of proper acknowledgement.

By understanding the plagiarism meaning and being able to identify the plagiarism definition, you can be confident that you will avoid the consequences.

What can plagiarism mean?

As aforementioned, the plagiarism meaning is “to steal and pass off as one’s own”. While it is easy to find the information you are looking for online, it is how this is attributed to your own work that makes the difference.

It is extremely important to have an understanding of what plagiarism is and how it is committed, in order to know how to best avoid it. One of the most common tips is to ensure that all words or ideas that have been sourced from elsewhere are accurately referenced and citied appropriately.

If the reference or citation is wrong, this can still classify as plagiarism. Secondly, it is important to know that a sentence with more than two words with identical phrasing can be considered as plagiarised content, and sentences where a few words have been changed but structure and syntax is identical can also be flagged.

Now that you are clear about what the plagiarism definition is and what it can mean, it is time to gage a better understanding of how plagiarised content can affect you from both perspectives.

How will plagiarized content affect me?

If you are the victim:Has somebody plagiarized your work without your consent and/or proper credit? If this is the case, the first thing you must do is contact the writer.

If the person fails to take down the plagiarized content, explaining what the consequences will be if they don’t comply may encourage the user to do what you have outlined.

Someone who plagiarizes your work online may be getting paid for the content you have produced, and while it can be a longer process to get the content taken down, it is important to realize that it is wrong for someone else to post your material without permission.

If you are the culprit:Many of us are worried about accidentally plagiarising, but providing we take our time to write a unique piece of material, there is nothing to lose sleep over. However, should you be found to have plagiarized another’s work, it is paramount that you take action – fast.

If the plagiarized piece has been found online, you have a greater chance of removing it before any real action takes place, depending on the situation.

Nevertheless, it is essential that you remind yourself of the plagiarism meaning, as well as the serious consequences of plagiarism, which can include:

  • Imprisonment
  • Hefty fines
  • Destroyed student/profession reputation
  • Legal repercussions
  • Monetary repercussions

Plagiarism statistics

While it is important to know the plagiarism meaning, knowing some essential plagiarism statistics can help put the threat of copying another’s work into an even better perspective.

A survey of more than 63,700 US undergraduate and 9,250 graduate students over the course of three years conducted by Donald McCabe revealed that more than half of these students admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from internet source without footnoting it.

” The plagiarism statistics report also revealed that 7% turn in work done by another, and another 7% admitted that they would copy materials almost exactly word-for-word from a written source, either online or in a book, without citation.While these plagiarism statistics are astonishing alone, individuals continue to plagiarize another’s work.

Regardless of whether or not you are aware that you have plagiarized material without giving proper credit or citing the source where you initially found the information, you will face the same consequences.

In some cases, you will be let off the hook, but the lives of a margin of people will be completely turned upside down as a result of their careless actions. By being aware of these plagiarism statistics, the next time you go to copy another’s work, you will subconsciously think twice before copy and pasting a sentence or two, not thinking that it will make a difference to you nor the owner of the content which you have claimed as your own.

How can I check for plagiarism?

Today, checking for plagiarism is easier than ever, and due to the rise in plagiarism statistics, it is also more important than ever. The Copyleaks Plagiarism Checker helps detect plagiarized and paraphrased content using highly advanced AI technology.

This helps confirm originality with algorithms that carefully scan content.

Perfect for both educational purposes and for businesses, our tool is available to track text in every language, making it even more straightforward to catch out those who have copied information from the internet.

What’s more, you can even scan your content with our apps to confirm the authenticity of the material you have received on the go. Now that you have a clear understanding of the plagiarism definition, why not try our Plagiarism Checker for free, today?

Learn how Copyleaks can help you avoid plagiarism automatically.

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