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Cite Your Sources and Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a very serious topic in college and in life.

Plagiarism is taking someone else’s ideas and representing them as your own.

You may think to yourself, “I would never do that,” and chances are that you wouldn’t think of doing that!

Plagiarism can easily happen accidentally from disorganization and careless research collection.

Correctly citing and careful management of your sources is an important way to avoid accidental plagiarism.

Take a minute to read through these three tips that can help you avoid accidental plagiarism.

TIP #1: Careful Planning Can Help You Avoid Errors in Your Work That Can Lead to Plagiarism

Just some simple steps can help a lot!
  •  Allow time for each step of the research process
  •  Have a plan for collecting your sources
  •  Have a system for indicating whether something is quoted, summarized, or paraphrased
  •  Gather information as you research for both the parenthetical citation and Works Cited entry

TIP #2: Document Your Sources ASAP!

Documenting your sources is accomplished by providing key information that will lead readers of your work to the source of the information that you borrowed for your work.

For example:

Citations are placed in the text of your paper whenever you borrow information. They typically provide the authors’ names and the date of publication for APA style, or the authors’ names and page numbers where the information was found for MLA style.

The citations in the text then lead readers to the source list at the end of your paper. Each source is documented with the complete author names, title of the book or article, any publication information such as the publisher or journal name, and the year.

TIP #3: Understand Exactly What You Need to Cite

It is very important to have a clear understanding of exactly what you need to cite so there are no mishaps!


Quotations occur when information is taken exactly as it appears in another document – or even in another format such as a radio interview.

This exact duplication of another’s material needs to have quotation marks around it to signify to anyone reading it that it is some else’s words. You are saying to others very clearly that “these are not my own words.”

Find a way right from the beginning of your research to indicate for yourself which are the quotations in your work and where the original sources can be found.

Use quotations sparingly. Your paper is primarily your ideas and not those of others.

Summarizing Another Person’s Work

Summarizing is just that: taking another person’s work and summarizing or condensing the information and ideas to make a point for your own work.

Summarizing another’s work also requires citing of the information. This is still not your information; it was created from another’s words and work.

You are saying to others very clearly that “these are not my ideas,” but I want you to know about these ideas to understand mine.

Paraphrasing Another Person's Work

Paraphrasing is writing about another person’s ideas in your own words. Be very, very careful if you choose to do this. It is very easy to plagiarize when trying to do this! It often appears as though the paraphrasing is just a slight change in the original words.

We would only advise paraphrasing for complex ideas that provide your readers with background that is important for their understanding of your ideas. It is important at this stage of your academic development that you find your own voice. Paraphrasing only encourages copying another’s voice – and the ideas that they created.

The important point to remember is that bad paraphrasing would, in fact, be plagiarizing even if it was cited because it is in essence copying. It is copying not only the wording choices but the way in which the words and sentences have been said.

If you do choose to paraphrase, be sure that the author’s ideas are written as you understand them and to cite the original information that you have paraphrased. This is still not your information; it was created from another’s words and work.

General Knowledge

General knowledge is knowledge that is well-known and accepted by either most people or the people in your particular audience.

For example, the fact that the American flag has 50 stars is general knowledge. General knowledge does not have to be cited.

If you have any questions about whether something is general knowledge, be sure to check with your instructor. When in doubt, however, it would be better to err on the side of caution.

More Information About Plagiarism Prevention

Works Cited

Works Cited