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Students:  After this paper was written, information from the internet websites changed.  Therefore, the paper should be viewed as being important for example purposes only.  The content is important; the citations are no longer accurate.



How to Avoid Plagiarism

Dr. Brian Campbell

Liberty University Online




How to Avoid Plagiarism

      Plagiarism is a major problem in schools and universities in the United States  (“Did You Know?,” n.d.).  Computers and internet access have provided students with powerful tools to find information, copy it, and present it as their own.  Given the potential damaging consequences of plagiarism (e.g., failing a class, being expelled from school, etc.), the present paper focuses on providing basic information on the topic of plagiarism.  This information is intended to help students identify what types of acts constitute plagiarism, and how to avoid them.

What is Plagiarism?

            The dictionary definition of plagiarism is “to present the ideas or words of another as one’s own” (Merriam-Webster Garfield Dictionary, 1999, p. 461).  There are many different forms of plagiarism, including:

·         turning in someone else’s work as your own

·         copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit

·         failing to put a quotation in quotation marks

·         giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation

·         changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

·         copying so many words or ideas from a source that ti makes up the majority of the work, whether you give credit or not

(“What is Plagiarism?,” n.d., para. 5)

            Surprisingly, most of the forms of plagiarism can be easily avoided simply by providing proper citations which specify the source of the information or ideas that are being utilized (“What is Plagiarism?,” 2012).  The topic of citations is covered in a subsequent section of this paper.  However, before turning to this topic, it is important to address the quesiton of why students plagiarize in the first place.

Why Do Students Plagiarize?

            Students who plagiarize do so for a variety of reasons (Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention, n.d.).  Some students plagiarize intentionally with a clear understanding that what they are doing is morally or ethically wrong; others plagiarize unintentionally because of ignorance regarding what types of acts or actions constitute plagiarism (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 4).

Intentional vs. Unintentional Plagiarism

Students who intentionally plagiarize do so for many different reasons.  For example, some students choose to deliberately plagiarize because of the pressure of time constraints and deadlines (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 3).  Others apparently plagiarize because they get a thrill out of outwitting their professor and sneaking a plagiarized paper past him or her (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 3).  Not surprisingly, some students  plagiarize because of the intense pressure in our society to get good grades  (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 4).  Finally, some students plagiarize because of the feeling that since everyone else is plagiarizing, why shouldn’t they do the same (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 4)?

            Clearly, based on the examples given above, many students knowingly and intentionally commit acts of plagiarism.  However, this is not always the case.  Many students inadvertantly or unintentionally plagiarize the work of others  (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 4). 

Unintentional plagiarism may occur for a number of reasons, including: ignorance regarding the proper rules and conventions for citing sources; confusion or errors regarding direct quotation;  a misunderstanding of what it means to paraphrase; and, a misunderstanding of what constitutes “common knowledge”  (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d., para 5).  These topics are discussed below.

The Importance of Citations

            A citation consists of information provided by an author that helps the reader identify the source of his or her ideas or statements.  The exact form of the citation differs depending upon the nature of the source cited.  However, in general, most citations include the following information:  the author’s name; the title of the work; the name and location of the publisher; the date of the publication; and, the page number or paragraph number of any information that is being directly quoted (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 3). 

            The information listed above is important for a number of reasons.  First of all, it helps the reader locate the source of the author’s ideas, in case he or she wants to learn more about the topic (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 3).  Secondly, it allows the reader to evaluate the validity or trustworthiness of the information that is “borrowed”  (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 3).  Thirdly, by providing citations, the reader is alerted to the amount of research the author has conducted on the topic  (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 3).  Finally, citations help lend support for the author’s ideas by providing outside support for the ideas or statements being made  (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 4).

            In general, whenever an author borrows words or ideas from someone else, s/he needs to acknowledge the source of the information (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 4).  Proper citation is required in all of the following situations:  when an author directly quotes material from another source; when an author paraphrases the writing of another author; when an author utlizes and idea that someone else has already expressed; when an author makes a specific reference to the work of another; and, whenever someone’s else’s work has been critical to the development of the ideas of the author  (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 4).

            Improper citation.  Although many students have good intentions and try to provide proper citations in their documents, they do not always succeed.  In fact, there are a number of improper citations, which can result in more “subtle” forms of plagiarism (“Types of Plagiarism,” n.d.).  Several examples are given below.

1.       Inaccurate or Incorrect Information:  If a student attempts to provide proper citations, but the information provided turns out to be inaccurate or incorrect, this would constitute plagiarism (“Types of Plagiarism,” n.d., para 4).  

2.      Citations Without Quotation Marks:   If a student provides proper citations when paraphrasing another author’s work, but fails to provide quotation marks for directly quoted material, this would constitute plagiarism (“Types of Plagiarism,” n.d., para 4).

3.      Quoting or Paraphrasing the Majority of Another Author’s Work:  If a student uses proper citations for work that is paraphrased or quoted, but utilizes virtually the entire original source, with little or no originality on his or her part, this would constitute plagiarism (“Types of Plagiarism,” n.d., para 4).

            Direct quoting.  When directly quoting from another source, it is important to place quotation marks around any portion of the original work that is being quoted verbatim, and provide enough information to the reader so that s/he is able to find/locate the quotation in the original source.  Basically, in addition to all the information required when citing sources, it is important to provide the page number on which the quote appears, or the paragraph number if no page number is available (e.g., when directly quoting information on websites).   

            Paraphrasing.  Many students erroneously feel that if they paraphrase information taken from another source, they do not need to cite the source of the information; however, in actuality, this opinion is entirely incorrect (“Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention,” n.d.).  Bottom line, in order to avoid plagiarism, it is always necessary to cite the source of the information when paraphrasing the work of someone else (“What is Citation?,” n.d., para 5).

Defining Common Knowledge

            There is one major exception to the requirement of providing citations for information utilized by an author that is not his/her own.  Specifically, it is not necessary to cite the source of information included in a document if the information that is utilized is considered to be “common knowledge.”  However, deciding what constitutes common knowledge is controversial (“How to Avoid Plagiarism,” n.d.).  Therefore, in order to avoid the possibility of plagiarism, if the author is not sure if the information s/he is using is common knowledge, “it is best to assume the idea is not common knowledge and cite the source”  (“How to Avoid Plagiarism,” n.d., para. 6).

Summary and Conclusions

The purpose of the present paper was to provide basic knowledge and information about plagiarism in order to help students avoid plagiarism in the future.  Although the “rules” of what constitutes plagiarism are at times vague or confusing, much of the information is straightforward and easily grasped.  Heightened awareness of plagiarism is imperative given the technological advances/capabilities of computers and with the advent of the internet.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Dictionary, M.-W. G. (1999). Merriam-Webster Garfield Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Incorporated.

Did You Know? (n.d.). Retrieved from PlagiarsmdotOrg:

Educational Tips on Plagiarism Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from PlagiarismdotOrg:

How to Avoid Plagiarism. (n.d.). Retrieved from PlagiarismdotOrg:

Types of Plagiarism. (n.d.). Retrieved from PlagiarismdotORG:

What is Citation? (n.d.). Retrieved from PlagiarismdotOrg:

What is Plagiarism? (n.d.). Retrieved from PlagiarsmdotOrg: