Avoiding Plagiarism

Not citing sources, or incorrectly citing sources, leads to plagiarism, a serious academic offense.  Plagiarism within the context of essay writing means using another’s specific information without identifying the source.

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The key to avoiding plagiarism is to make sure you give credit where credit is due. This may be credit for something somebody said, wrote, emailed, drew, or implied. You need to give credit to:

  • Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, web page, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium
  • Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing
  • Exact words or a unique phrase that you copy
  • Diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials that you reprint
  • Any electronically available media, including images, audio, video, or other media, that you reuse or repost

Ultimately, you must cite any source of information you use in your paper that doesn’t originate with you.

On the other hand, you do NOT need to cite:

  • your own ideas and opinions
  • your own words
  • common knowledge

Examples of common knowledge include:

  • Basic facts: there are 365 days in a year, the earth orbits the sun, the molecular structure of water (H2O), etc.
  • Very well-known quotes: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” or “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” You still have to use quotation marks and indicate who said the quote (Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and John F. Kennedy, respectively), but you do not need to include the source in your bibliography.
  • Subject-specific common knowledge: There is information in specific disciplines or branches of knowledge that is considered common knowledge. A good indicator of what constitutes common knowledge is if you see the information in 4 or 5 articles or books and it does not need a citation. Until you become familiar with what is considered common knowledge in your major area of study, it is best to play it safe and cite your sources or ask your professor.


Which information needs a citation?

  1. 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints.
  2. The Supreme Court ruling for Brown v. the Board of Education states, “Racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional.”
  3. Paris is the Capital of France.
  4. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America.
  5. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. 52, 950 unaccompanied homeless youth were supported through school based programs in 2008-09.

Know How to Incorporate Sources

Never plagiarize, provide context, quote, summarize, and paraphrase.

Checklist for integrating sources into your research paper.

You can incorporate other sources into your writing by paraphrasing, summarizing, or using direct quotes. With each of these techniques, you must always cite the original work.

Paraphrasing is using another author’s idea, but expressing it in your own words and without quotation marks, since is it no longer a word-for-word quotation. A proper paraphrase is substantially different from the original text.

Summarizing condenses the main idea of a whole text, or of several texts, into a substantially shorter form while capturing the most important elements.

A direct quotation uses exactly the same words as the text you are taking it from, and it puts the exact words in quotation marks. Always include the page number, when possible, when citing a direct quotation: (Smith 116).

Know How to Accurately Cite Your Sources

Knowing how to cite your sources properly is one of the most important skills to have in order to avoid plagiarism. Any time you paraphrase, summarize, or use a direct quote in your research assignment, you must provide a citation in the text and list the source in a comprehensive list at the end of the text.