5 easy steps to avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of fraud, and preventing it is therefore enormously important. The good news is, there are some easy ways to avoid plagiarism.

How to avoid plagiarism

Avoiding plagiarism is actually rather simple if you follow these steps when completing the research process and writing your dissertation:

  1. Save or note the relevant information for all sources used in the research stage.
  2. Quote, paraphrase and summarize correctly.
  3. Include correct citations and a reference list according to your designated reference style.
  4. Thoroughly review your dissertation for any possible plagiarism.
  5. Run a plagiarism check.

Let’s break it down.

1. Save your sources

As soon as you take note of any information from a particular source, either save it or record all the relevant information so you can easily find it again later.

  • Maintain a thorough list of all sources, either in a file, handwritten or make use of special software such as EndNote, Mendeley, CiteULike, RefBase, and Papers. If you are applying the APA reference style in your research, you can use the free Scribbr APA Generator.
  • Save PDFs, Word files, etc directly onto your computer. Give all documents a clear name, e.g. with the author’s name and year of publication.
  • Mark any internet sources as favourites in your browser. You can make a separate bookmark folder where you add all online sources for your dissertation.

2. Quote, paraphrase and summarize correctly

To share the ideas of others, you can quote, paraphrase or summarize the source. It is vital that any other researcher’s ideas are correctly cited in the text. This is a key step in avoiding plagiarism. If you do not cite the quotes or ideas used, you will commit plagiarism.

Though the use of a large number of correctly cited quotes is not strictly plagiarism, you should also check with your university or thesis advisor to find out what percentage of the dissertation can acceptably be comprised of quoted material.

Even if you include all the correct citations, you may lose marks for using too many quotes rather than paraphrasing or expressing your own ideas.

Examples of how to quote and paraphrase correctly

How to quote (with APA citations)
Correct“Every description of the scene of an event or of the position of an object in space is based on the specification of the point on a rigid body (body of reference) with which that event or object coincides” (Einstein, 1920, pp. 5–6).
IncorrectEvery description of the scene of an event or of the position of an object in space is based on the specification of the point on a rigid body with which that event or object coincides.
Check
  • The text is copied word-for-word from the original
  • Quotation marks are included
  • The correct citation is included
How to paraphrase (tip: for better understanding, read the original paragraph)
CorrectOver 150 Russian diplomats were expelled from over two dozen nations following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei V. Skripal in early March, 2018. Skripal and his daughter both survived the toxic nerve-agent attack, which sparked a confrontation between Russia and the West (Schwirtz and Barry, 2018, para. 3)
IncorrectFormer Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, was nearly poisoned to death with a rare and toxic nerve agent at the beginning of March 2018. The event sparked a furious confrontation between Russia and the West and resulted in the expulsion of over 150 Russian diplomats from more than 20 countries (Schwirtz and Barry, 2018, para. 3).
Check
  • The text has been completely rewritten in your own words — so far as possible (e.g. in the example, there is no synonym for “poisoned” or “between Russia and the West,” so these are kept the same as the original source)
  • The correct citation is included

Tips for keeping quotes and paraphrasing organised

  • When writing, highlight text presenting the ideas of others or including quotes to make it easier to check/add the complete citations later.
  • Add comments to remind yourself where you need to add a source or reformulate the fragment of text.

3. Include correct citations and a complete reference list

Every mention of an idea from another source must include a citation, which corresponds to a full-length reference in the literature list at the end of the dissertation.

The format of your citations and the literature list will depend on the designated reference style.

What not to cite

There are some rare cases where you do not need to cite the source of your information. This is generally when the mentioned information is accepted as common knowledge.
According to MIT, citations are not needed for:

“information that the average, educated reader would accept as reliable without having to look it up.”

To decide whether or not you need to cite the information, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it information that most of the general public would know? E.g. that Paris is a city in France, that Albert Einstein was a scientist, that Harry Potter is a fictional character.
  • Is it absolutely a fact, and not your own opinion? E.g. Wayne Gretzky is the world’s greatest ice hockey player, Hawaii has the world’s most beautiful beaches, New York is the city that never sleeps are all examples of ideas many would consider as possibilities, but are not 100% factual. If you find multiple sources that say Gretzky is the best hockey player in history, then you could include that concept in your dissertation — so long as you cite the sources!

4. Review to remove plagiarism

If you have followed all these steps closely, you should have a plagiarism-free dissertation when you have finished.

However, there are steps you can take to be absolutely certain you have not accidentally plagiarised or overlooked anything:

  • Further revise paraphrased and summarized text to ensure the wording is completely different from the original source.
  • Check that all quotes are correctly formatted, with quotation marks or in your reference style’s block quote format.
  • Ensure citations are included for all quoted, paraphrased and summarized text.
  • Check that there are enough citations in longer passages of text (where you may need to repeat the source information more than once).
  • Ensure you have not committed self-plagiarism.

Check our guide to common types of plagiarism to learn more on this topic.

5. Run a plagiarism check

There is one final step to a plagiarism-free thesis: a plagiarism check.

This technology works by scanning your document to highlight passages of text detected as possible areas of plagiarism.

Keep in mind that your dissertation will be run through your university’s plagiarism checker upon submission, so performing one yourself is a good idea. It’s easy, safe and reliable — and you can do it right here on Scribbr!

Check my document for plagiarism

 

Checklist: Avoid plagiarism

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Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

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