How to Avoid Plagiarism | Common Mistakes & Tips
Plagiarism means using someone else’s words or ideas without properly crediting the original author. Sometimes plagiarism involves deliberately stealing someone’s work, but more often it happens accidentally, through carelessness or forgetfulness.
When you write an academic paper, you build upon the work of others and use various credible sources for information and evidence. To avoid plagiarism, you need to correctly incorporate these sources into your text.
Plagiarism can become an issue at various stages of the writing process. You can avoid plagiarism by:
- Keeping track of the sources you consult in your research
- Paraphrasing or quoting from your sources (and adding your own ideas)
- Crediting the original author in an in-text citation and in your reference list
- Using a plagiarism checker before you submit
Even accidental plagiarism can have serious consequences, so take care with how you integrate sources into your writing.
Keeping track of your sources
One of the most common ways that students commit plagiarism is by simply forgetting where an idea came from and unintentionally presenting it as their own. You can easily avoid this pitfall by keeping your notes organized and compiling a list of citations as you go.
Clearly label which thoughts are yours and which aren’t in your notes, highlight statements that need citations, and carefully mark any text copied directly from a source with quotation marks.
In the example below, red indicates a claim that requires a source, blue indicates information paraphrased or summarized from a source, and green indicates a direct quotation.
Managing sources with the Scribbr Citation Generator
To make your life easier later, make sure to write down the full details of every source you consult. That includes not only books and journal articles, but also things like websites, magazine articles, and videos. This makes it easy to go back and check where you found a phrase, fact, or idea that you want to use in your paper.
Scribbr’s Citation Generator allows you to start building and managing your reference list as you go, saving time later. When you’re ready to submit, simply download your reference list!
Avoiding plagiarism when quoting
In general, quote sparingly. Quotes are appropriate when:
- You’re using an exact definition, introduced by the original author
- It is impossible for you to rephrase the original text without losing its meaning
- You’re analyzing the use of language in the original text
- You want to maintain the authority and style of the author’s words
Long quotations should be formatted as block quotes. But for longer blocks of text, it’s usually better to paraphrase instead.
Avoiding plagiarism when paraphrasing
Paraphrasing means using your own words to explain something from a source.
Paraphrasing does not mean just switching out a few words from a copy-pasted text. To paraphrase properly, you should rewrite the author’s point in your own words to show that you have fully understood it.
Citing your sources correctly
Every time you quote or paraphrase, you must include an in-text or footnote citation clearly identifying the original author. Each citation must correspond to a full reference in the reference list or bibliography at the end of your paper.
This acknowledges the source of your information, avoiding plagiarism, and it helps your readers locate the source for themselves if they would like to learn more.
There are many different citation styles, each with its own rules. A few common styles are APA, MLA, and Chicago. Your instructor may assign a particular style for you to use, or you may be able to choose. The most important thing is to apply one style consistently throughout the text.
The examples below follow APA Style.
Citing a single source
|In-text citation||The novel’s central theme is voiced by Cersei Lannister: “when you play the game of thrones you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” (Martin, 2002, p. 403).|
|Reference list||Martin, G. R. R. (2002). A game of thrones (Reprint ed.). Bantam.|
Citing multiple sources
If you quote multiple sources in one sentence, make sure to cite them separately so that it’s clear which material came from which source.
|In-text citation||Martin’s narrative can be read as a classic “zero-sum game” (Morgenstern and von Neumann, 1980, p.98), where players in the “game of thrones” either “win or die” (Martin, 2002, p. 403), with no other outcomes possible.|
|Reference list||Martin, G. R. R. (2002). A game of thrones (Reprint ed.). Bantam.
Morgenstern, O., & von Neumann, J. (1980). Theory of games and economic behavior (3rd ed.). Princeton University Press.
To create correctly formatted source citations, you can use our free Citation Generator.
And if you’re citing in APA Style, consider using Scribbr’s Citation Checker, a unique tool that scans your citations for errors. It can detect inconsistencies between your in-text citations and your reference list, as well as making sure your citations are flawlessly formatted.
Using a plagiarism checker
Most universities use plagiarism checkers to detect potential plagiarism. Plagiarism checkers work by scanning your document, comparing it to a database of webpages and publications, and highlighting passages that appear similar to other texts.
Consider using a plagiarism checker yourself before submitting your paper. This allows you to identify issues that could constitute accidental plagiarism, such as:
- Forgotten or misplaced citations
- Missing quotation marks
- Paraphrased material that’s too similar to the original text
Then you can easily fix any instances of potential plagiarism.
There are differences in accuracy and safety between plagiarism checkers. To help students choose, we conducted in-depth research comparing the performance of nine checkers to see which performed best.
Free lecture slides
Are you a teacher or professor who would like to educate your students about plagiarism? You can download our free lecture slides, available for Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint.
Frequently asked questions
- Can plagiarism be accidental?
Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common examples of plagiarism. Perhaps you forgot to cite a source, or paraphrased something a bit too closely. Maybe you can’t remember where you got an idea from, and aren’t totally sure if it’s original or not.
These all count as plagiarism, even though you didn’t do it on purpose. When in doubt, make sure you’re citing your sources. Also consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission, which work by using advanced database software to scan for matches between your text and existing texts.
Scribbr’s Plagiarism Checker takes less than 10 minutes and can help you turn in your paper with confidence.
- How can I summarize a source without plagiarizing?
- How is plagiarism detected?
Plagiarism can be detected by your professor or readers if the tone, formatting, or style of your text is different in different parts of your paper, or if they’re familiar with the plagiarized source.
Many universities also use plagiarism detection software like Turnitin’s, which compares your text to a large database of other sources, flagging any similarities that come up.
It can be easier than you think to commit plagiarism by accident. Consider using a plagiarism checker prior to submitting your paper to ensure you haven’t missed any citations.
- What are some examples of plagiarism?
Some examples of plagiarism include:
- Copying and pasting a Wikipedia article into the body of an assignment
- Quoting a source without including a citation
- Not paraphrasing a source properly, such as maintaining wording too close to the original
- Forgetting to cite the source of an idea
If you’re concerned about plagiarism, consider running your work through a plagiarism checker tool prior to submission. Scribbr’s Plagiarism Checker takes less than 10 minutes and can help you turn in your paper with confidence.