51 Avoiding Plagiarism

Teaching & Learning, University Libraries; Christina Frasier; and Lisa Ford

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the dangers in academic misconduct and plagiarism.
  • Understand what is or is not plagiarism.

What Is Academic Misconduct?

As you might imagine, academic misconduct is when you do not use integrity in your academic work. Academic misconduct includes many different unacceptable behaviors, but the one most relevant to what we are discussing here is submitting plagiarized work: plagiarism is the representation of another’s work or ideas as one’s own; it includes the unacknowledged word-for-word use and/or paraphrasing of another person’s work, and/or the inappropriate unacknowledged use of another person’s ideas.

How to Avoid Plagiarizing

Tip #1: Make Sure You Are Very Certain about What Is and is Not Plagiarism

Plagiarism can occur at any stage of the writing process. All academic work submitted to your instructor must be a result of a student’s own thought, research or self-expression. When a student submits work purporting to be his or her own, but which in any way borrows organization, ideas, wording or anything else from a source without appropriate acknowledgment of the fact, he/she is engaging in plagiarism.

Plagiarism can be intentional (knowingly using someone else’s work and presenting it as your own) or unintentional (inaccurately or inadequately citing ideas and words from a source). It may be impossible for your professor to determine whether plagiarized work was intentional or unintentional. But in either case, plagiarism puts both you and your professor in a compromising position.

While academic integrity calls for work resulting from your own effort, scholarship requires that you learn from others. So in the world of academic scholarship you are actually expected to learn new things from others AND come to new insights on your own. There is an implicit understanding that as a student you will be both using others’ knowledge as well as your own insights to create new scholarship. To do this in a way that meets academic integrity standards you must acknowledge the part of your work that develops from others’ efforts. You do this by citing the work of others. You plagiarize when you fail to acknowledge the work of others and do not follow appropriate citation guidelines.

Tip #2: Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Complete an Assignment

Running out of time on an assignment is a main cause of plagiarism. Rushing to meet a deadline can result in carelessness (leading to unintentional plagiarism – see the next tip) and the desire to find a quick, easy solution such as copying someone else’s work. Don’t give in to that temptation! Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, and the chance of being caught (which is likely) is not worth it.

Avoid this situation entirely by starting your assignment far ahead of time and planning out when you will complete each phase of the writing process. Even if your teacher does not require you to turn in materials for each stage of the writing process (i.e. brainstorming, creating a thesis statement, outlining, drafting, revising, etc.), set your own personal deadlines for each step along the way and make sure to give yourself more than enough time to finish everything.

Tip #3: Document Everything 

Plagiarism isn’t always a conscious choice.  Sometimes it can be unintentional, typically resulting from poor documentation of one’s sources during the research phase. For example, sometimes students will write down an idea from a source using words identical to or very close to those in the original, but then when they go to write their paper forget that the material was not already in their own words.  Adopting good research habits can prevent this type of plagiarism.

Print, photocopy, or scan the relevant pages of every source you are using (including the title and copyright pages, since they have the information you need for a bibliographic citation).  When taking notes by hand (or typed into a file), list the bibliographic information for each source you use.  Make sure to put quotation marks around any wordings taken directly from the source (and note the page where you found it), and remember to put everything else into your own words right away, so there is no danger of forgetting something is a quote.  Documenting where all of your ideas, information, quotations, and so on come from is an important step in avoiding plagiarism.

Tip #4: Don’t Include Too Much Material Taken from Other Sources

Writing assignments are about your ideas, your interpretations, and your ability to synthesize information.  You should use relevant sources to support your ideas using evidence such as quotes, paraphrases, and summaries, as well as statistics and other data.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that your argument is central! Including too much material from other sources can result in a paper that feels like it has been pasted together from a variety of authors, rather than a cohesive essay.  Such papers also run a much higher risk of setting off plagiarism warnings in SafeAssign or other plagiarism-detecting software.  Try to find a balance: use enough evidence from credible sources to prove your points but don’t let the ideas of others take the place of your own thoughts.

Tip #5: When in Doubt, Give a Citation

There are certain types of information – typically referred to as common knowledge – that don’t require a citation when you include them in your writing.  These are facts that are widely known and can be easily found in a number of sources. They are not ideas that originated with one particular source.  Examples include scientific facts (for example, that solid, liquid, and gas are three states of matter), general historical information (for example, that George Washington was the first US president), or even information commonly known to certain groups of people but not others (for example, most musicians know that a C major triad includes the notes C, E, and G, even though many non-musicians would have no idea what a C major triad is).

For everything else, you need to include a citation, regardless of whether you are quoting directly from the source, paraphrasing it, or giving a summary.  If you are at all unsure whether something qualifies as common knowledge or not, give a citation. You can also consult a more experienced figure in your field, such as your instructor, to find out if something counts as common knowledge or not.

In academic writing, the “Quote Sandwich” approach is useful for incorporating other writers’ voices into your essays.  It gives meaning and context to a quote, and helps you avoid plagiarism.  This 3-step approach offers your readers a deeper understanding of what the quote is and how it relates to your essay’s goals.

  1. Step 1: Provide context for the source.  If you haven’t used it yet in the essay, tell us the source’s title and author (if known), and any other information that’s relevant, like the purpose of the organization that published it, for instance.
  2. Step 2: Provide the quote itself.  Be sure to format correctly and use quotation marks around exact language.
  3. Step 3: Provide a summary and/or analysis of what the quote says, and how it relates to the subject matter of your essay and your thesis.

Academic Writing I by Lisa Ford, CC BY 4.0


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

From College to Career: A Handbook for Student Writers Copyright © by Teaching & Learning, University Libraries; Christina Frasier; and Lisa Ford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book