Avoiding Plagiarism

If you're wondering how to avoid plagiarism in your writing, read these tips to avoid copying others' work (and giving credit when necessary).

Tips for avoiding plagiarism

Even if you don't mean to plagiarize, it's still possible to do it without realizing it. It's important to understand that it's still plagiarism, even if it's accidental. Here are a few basic tips to help reduce the risk that you'll accidentally plagiarize.

If you use a source, cite it

The main way to avoid plagiarism is to cite your sources. If you use a source without citing it, you are implying that you came up with the information on your own. Citing your sources gives proper credit to the original authors, and it also lets your readers find the original source if they want to learn more.

Use quotation marks when necessary

Sometimes, it makes sense to use the source's exact words instead of paraphrasing or rewriting. If you need to quote the original source, make sure that place quotation marks around the original text.

Don't just change a few words

Many writers try to avoid plagiarism by simply changing a few words or putting sentences in a different order. But even if you use a thesaurus to change every word, the original author's sentence structures are unchanged. To properly use another author's idea, you should rewrite it in your own words (while still citing the original source). If its not possible to rewrite it, then use an exact quote with quotation marks.

Synthesize the information

It's much easier to avoid plagiarism if you focus on developing a unique point or perspective, rather than relying on your sources to make all of your points for you. Instead of simply stitching together various sources, try to synthesize the information so that you are creating something new.

For example, what is the point the author is trying to make? How does it differ from the other sources you're using? How do they all relate to the point you're trying to make?

If something is common knowledge, you don't need to cite a source. For example, "Paris is the capital of France" is a well-known fact which is not disputed, so you wouldn't need to include a citation for that fact.

How should you cite online sources?

The way you cite your sources will vary depending on how formal you need to be. For example, if you're writing a blog article it's often enough to simply link to the original source. You may also want to mention the original author's name and/or the name of the website to help your readers tell at a glance where you're getting your information.

Screenshot of blogAn informal citation in a blog

If you're writing a more formal paper, you will generally need to use a specific format for citations. You can use a style guide such as the Chicago Manual of Style to give your citations a consistent style. For these types of citations, you may list the sources as footnotes or include a bibliography at the end (or both).

Visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab to learn more about the Chicago Manual of Style.