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Plagiarism 101: How to Avoid Plagiarism

Learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid getting in trouble

Avoiding Plagiarism

What needs to be credited or documented:

  • 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
  • When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase from a particular source material
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • When you reuse or repost any electronically-available media, including images, audio, video or other media. 

Bottom line: Document any words, ideas, or other productions that originate somewhere outside of you. 

Things that do not need documentation or credit, including:

  • Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject
  • When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments
  • When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
  • When you are using "common knowledge" tings like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents)
  • When you are using generally-accepted facts, e.g., pollution is bad for the environment. Facts are accepted within particular communities, e.g., in the field of composition studies, "writing is a process" is a generally-accepted fact. 

If you are unsure, ask your instructor, a tutor, or librarian.

source: (Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL))

Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting

When adding source material in your paper, you have the option to summarize a source, paraphrase from a source, or directly quote from a source. There are differences and the following table will help you learn what those are. 


Summarizing  Paraphrasing  Quoting
  • Must reference the original source
  • The text is much shorter than the original text. (For example, one may write a single page to summarize a four-page article.)
  • Must use your own words, usually with a very limited use of quotations.
  • Must reference the original source
  • The text produced may be shorter or longer than the original text
  • Must use your own words
  • Must reference the original source
  • The text produced is the exact length of the original text quoted (unless ellipses are used)
  • Use the original author’s exact words
  • Put quotation marks around the original author’s exact words
  • Include the page number of the original source from which you borrowed the author’s original language.

Table retrieved from:

More on Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is: restating someone else's idea in your own words.

**To properly paraphrase, you must significantly change the wording, phrasing, and sentence structure of the source. (Don't just plug in synonyms!!)**

Steps to properly paraphrase a text:

  • Read the text carefully. Be sure you understand the text fully.
  • Put the original text aside and write your paraphrase in your own words. 
  • Review your paraphrase. Does it reflect the original text but is in your own words and style? Did you include all the main points and essential information? 
  • Include an in-text citation in the expected formatting style (APA, MLA, etc.), especially if it is new information to you. If it is common knowledge, there is no need to cite. Example of common knowledge: Libraries have books.

Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

tip image

Start early - the longer you put off that paper, the more tempting it will be to take shortcuts and plagiarize

Keep track - As you take notes, keep track of all the information you plan to use in one place, such as a Word of Google document. 

When in doubt, cite - you can always ask your instructor or librarian if you need help. 

This Citation Guide has directions on how to properly format your reference page.