How to avoid plagiarism
Avoiding plagiarism is easy! When you use an idea, some words or a whole paragraph from someone else you must credit the original author.
Take the following three steps to avoid all plagiarism in your paper:
- Paraphrase or quote the original text
- Credit the original author in the text and reference list
- Use a plagiarism checker
Paraphrase or quote to avoid plagiarism
To share the ideas of others, you must either paraphrase or quote the original text. In order to avoid plagiarism you must also add a citation to the quoted or paraphrased section. More about that later in the article.
Paraphrasing means using your own words to explain or tell something. The example below shows a paraphrased piece of text. For better understanding, read the original paragraph.
More than 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 that sparked a confrontation between Russia and the West (Schwirtz and Barry, 2018, para. 3).
- The text has been rewritten in your own words as much as possible
- The correct citation is included
Quoting means literally copying a piece of text instead of rewording it. The example below shows an example.
“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).
- The text is copied word-for-word from the original
- Quotation marks are used
- The correct citation is included
Paraphrasing vs. quoting
In general, paraphrasing is better than quoting as it shows the reader that you truly understand the original source. It also provides you with the opportunity to exclude irrelevant information. You should only use quotes when:
- You are using an exact definition introduced by the original author
- It is impossible for you to rephrase the original piece without losing its meaning
- You want to maintain the authority of the author’s words
Credit the original author to avoid plagiarism
Every time you use someone else’s ideas or words (unless it is common knowledge) you must include both an in-text citation (or footnote citation) and a full-length reference in the reference list at the end of the paper.
Example or in-text citation in APA format:
Research shows that there is a great need for … (Reynolds & Thomas, 2014)
Example of an APA reference list entry:
Reynolds, R.S., & Thomas, A.H. (1998). Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors (3th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press
These citations help the readers of your paper identify the original author(s) and locate the original source by providing helpful information, such as a book title, a website URL or a publisher name. To help you correctly cite sources, you can use our citation generator (available for APA and MLA format).
Use a plagiarism checker to avoid plagiarism
Most universities use plagiarism checkers to detect plagiarism in student’ papers. You can use one as well before you submit your paper to your supervisor. This is one of the best ways to avoid plagiarism.
Plagiarism technology scans your document and highlights the passages of text that are detected as potential instances of plagiarism.
There are clear differences in accuracy and safety between plagiarism checkers. Therefore we’ve created two comparisons:
- Best plagiarism checker comparison (free and paid checks)
- Best free plagiarism checker comparison (only free checks)
Frequently asked questions about avoiding plagiarism
- What happens if you plagiarize?
If you’re a student, then you might fail the course, be suspended or expelled, or be obligated to attend a workshop on plagiarism. It depends on whether it’s your first offense or whether you’ve done it before.
As an academic or professional, the consequences are more serious. Aside from the fact that plagiarizing seriously damages your reputation, you might also lose your research funding and/ or your job.
Plagiarizing is a serious offense, and knowing how to avoid plagiarism is therefore important. Read more about the consequences of plagiarism and use a plagiarism checker to detect plagiarism yourself.
- Are plagiarism checkers accurate?
The accuracy depends on the plagiarism checker you use. Scribbr is the most accurate plagiarism checker. Many free plagiarism checkers fail to detect all plagiarism or falsely flag text as plagiarism.
Take a look at this comparison of free and paid plagiarism checkers for students to find the most accurate plagiarism checker.
The accuracy is determined by two factors: the algorithm (which recognizes the plagiarism) and the size of the database (with which your document is compared).
Size of the database
Many free plagiarism checkers only check your paper against websites – not against books, journals or papers previously submitted by other students. Therefore, these plagiarism checkers are not very accurate, as they miss a lot of plagiarism.
Most plagiarism checkers are only able to detect “direct plagiarism”, or instances where the sentences are exactly the same as in the original source. However, a good plagiarism checker is also able to detect “patchwork plagiarism” (sentences where some words are changed or synonyms are used).
- Is it plagiarism if you cite the source?
If you correctly cite the source you do not commit plagiarism. However, the word 'correct' is vital in this sentence. In order to avoid plagiarism you must adhere to the guidelines of your citation style (e.g. APA citation style or MLA citation style).
Plagiarism checker software can be used to check your text for plagiarism. This software compares your text with billions of webpages, books and articles.
- Is paraphrasing considered plagiarism?
- Can you plagiarize yourself?
Although it sounds contradictory, you can indeed plagiarize yourself. This is called self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism goes against the expectations of the reader that the paper you submitted is new.
You can plagiarize yourself by, for instance:
- Submitting a document you previously submitted for a different course
- Using a section of a previous paper without correctly citing yourself as the source
Although self-plagiarism is often unintentional, it can have serious consequences. Be sure to cite your previous work or discuss the decision to use your old paper with your professor.