Avoid plagiarism

In college courses, you're continually engaged with other people's ideas. You might read them in texts, hear them in lectures, discuss them in class, and incorporate them into your own writing. It's important that you give credit where credit is due.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using other people's ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information. It can be intentional, but you might do it without even realizing it.

There can be serious consequences for plagiarizing, from getting a zero on a paper to a full-blown lawsuit. But, don't worry! We'll help you learn what needs to be cited and how to avoid plagiarism.

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you:

  • use another person's idea, opinion, or thought.
  • use any information that isn't common knowledge.
  • quote or paraphrase another person's actual spoken or written words.

Quoting

Quoting is copying the exact words from a source. This is fine as long as you place quotations around the passage you're quoting and properly cite the source.

Be sure to:

  • put quotation marks around everything that comes directly from the text, especially when taking notes.
  • cite the source.

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is restating a passage from a source in your own words. Being able to recognize the differences between acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing will help you avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Be sure to:

  • not just rearrange or replace a few words.
  • read over what you want to paraphrase carefully. You could cover up the text with your hand or close the text so you can't see any of it. Then, write out the idea in your own words without peeking.
  • compare your paraphrase to the original text to be sure you haven't accidentally used the same phrases or words and confirm that the information is accurate.

The examples below will show you how to paraphrase correctly. They're adapted from Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It by the Writing Tutorial Services at Indiana University Bloomington with its gracious permission.

Original text

The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry came urbanization the growth of large cities (like Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade.

–from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s by Joyce Williams et al.

Example of unacceptable paraphrasing

The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and the explosion of the population were three large factors of nineteenth century America. As steam-driven companies became more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities like Fall River where the Bordens lived which turned into centers of commerce and trade as well as production.

This example is plagiarism because the writer:

  • only changed a few words and phrases.
  • only changed the order of the original's sentences.
  • didn't cite the source.

It is also problematic since it changes the original meaning (for example, changing "steam-driven factories" to "steam-driven companies"). This wouldn't necessarily be plagiarism, it's just not an accurate paraphrase.

Example of acceptable paraphrasing

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the U.S., they found work in these new factories. As a result, populations grew and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams et al. 1).

This paraphrased example is not plagiarism because the writer:

  • accurately relays the information in the original while using his/her own words.
  • cites the source.

Example of paraphrasing with quotes

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. As steam-powered production shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, the demand for workers "transformed farm hands into factory workers" and created jobs for immigrants. In turn, growing populations increased the size of urban areas. Fall River was one of these manufacturing hubs that were also "centers of commerce and trade" (Williams 1).

This paraphrased example is not plagiarism because the writer:

  • accurately records the information in the original passage.
  • shows what part is quoted by using quotation marks.
  • cites the source.

Citing

Whether you're paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting, you need to cite your sources whenever you use any research, words, or ideas that aren't your own. The only things you don't need to cite are information that's considered common knowledge and your own original research, words, or ideas.

Also, make a bibliography at the end of your paper that lists all the sources you used.

That's it! Refer to the links below to learn how to cite your sources in different styles and manage them.

How to cite
Learn how to format citations in your paper and bibliography in MLA, APA, Chicago, and other styles.

Manage your citations
Tools you can use to collect, manage, and share your sources.

Practice

Accidental Plagiarism tutorial
Learn how to avoid accidental plagiarism through this interactive tutorial. You'll learn how accidental plagiarism can occur and how to prevent it through the correct use of paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting of sources. A brief quiz is included.

More help

Think Tank Writing Center
Go to the Writing Center at the Think Tank to get help with your papers and writing.

Writing Skills Improvement Program
Register for this program to schedule tutoring sessions and improve your writing skills.