Avoiding Plagiarism

Learning Objectives

  • Describe proactive strategies to avoid plagiarism

You can take steps to avoid plagiarism in your writing by carefully managing your time, by keeping a good record of your sources, and by knowing when and how to appropriately cite your sources.

Manage Your Time

Plagiarism is often the result of procrastination. Doing research, writing your paper, and incorporating sources correctly takes time. Cobbling your paper together the night before it is due leaves you susceptible to unintentional plagiarism. In your rush, you may use your sources improperly or forget to cite.

Waiting until the last minute to do your paper also increases the appeal of buying a paper online or trying to turn in a paper you wrote previously for a different class. Of course, you would never do that! But other students have, and they have faced serious consequences.

Develop a Note-Taking System

When you do research, make sure that you use a note-taking system that clearly differentiates the following things: your own personal thoughts on the sources, quotes taken directly from the sources (with a page number), and summaries or paraphrases of the source.

One strategy you could apply during your note-taking is the use of different colors to differentiate what text was copied directly from the source, from what you wrote using your own words. Here’s an example:

Example of color-coded note-taking system. A person writes the quote in blue (with a page number), thoughts in red, a paraphrase in green, thoughts in red, and a summary in purple.

Figure 1. In this color-coded note-taking system, you can identify what was written in your own words and what was taken from somewhere else.

Reference management websites and applications are excellent tools to help you keep track of your sources. Most of these websites are free and will even create the works cited page for you! Some of the most popular citation tools are:

Pick one of these helpful tools at the beginning of your research and use it during your initial searches to ensure you always keep track of your materials.

Is it cheating to use a website to create your References page?

Of course not! Once upon a time, students weren’t allowed to use erasers for fear that they would be sloppy in their writing. We have come a long way since then. Tools like spell check and citation generators were made to help all of us be more correct in our writing. Just be careful – these tools are far from perfect, so double check your work!

Taking Good Notes

Taking the time to be careful while you gather sources and begin your paper has important consequences for when you actually start writing.

Citing Your Sources

The most essential way to avoid plagiarism is to properly cite your sources. To write a proper citation we recommend following these steps, which will help you maintain accuracy and clarity in acknowledging sources.

Step 1: Choose Your Citation Style

Find out the name of the citation style you must use from your instructor, the directions for an assignment, or what you know your audience or publisher expects. This will often be either APA or MLA format, and instructions for those citations are found in this course or are easily available online—the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or your style’s stylebook/handbook can give you detailed instructions.

Step 2: Create In-Text Citations

Find and read your style’s rules about in-text citations, which are usually very thorough. Luckily, there are usually examples provided that make it a lot easier to learn the rules.

Step 3: Determine the Kind of Source

After creating your in-text citation, now begin creating the full bibliographic citation that will appear on the References or Bibliography page by deciding what kind of source you have to cite (book, film, journal article, webpage, etc.).

Step 4: Study Your Style’s Rules for Bibliographic Citations

Next, you’ll need a full bibliographic citation for the same source. This citation will appear on the References page or Bibliography page or Works Cited page. (APA style, which we’re using here, requires a page called References.) Bibliographic citations usually contain more publication facts than you used for your in-text citation, and the formatting for all of them is very specific.

  • Rules vary for sources, depending, for instance, on whether they are books, journal articles, or online sources.
  • Sometimes lines of the citation must be indented.
  • Authors’ names usually appear last name first.
  • Authors’ first names may be initials instead.
  • Names of sources may or may not have to be in full.
  • Names of some kinds of sources may have to be italicized.
  • Names of some sources may have to be in quotes.
  • Dates of publication appear in different places, depending on the style.
  • Some styles require Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs ) in the citations for online sources.

Step 5: Create End Citations for Each of Your Sources

Next, you’ll figure out which bibliographic citation rules apply to the source you’ve just created an in-text citation for. Then apply them to create your first bibliographic citation.