Avoiding Plagiarism

If you are writing a research paper or any paper that uses information from outside sources, it is important to properly document your use of those outside sources, or references.

An outside source is anybody or anything from which you take information (facts, statistics, etc.) or ideas. This can include your professor, your friends, a magazine, a book, a website, and so on. (Remember: Exceptions are commonly allowed for common knowledge, such as the fact that Columbus first crossed the Atlantic in 1492, or the common dictionary definitions of some words.) If you don’t identify the source, then anything you include from that source in your paper will look like your own ideas and you will be plagiarizing. Plagiarism is an offense that can result in a failing grade for a course and even expulsion from a university. To avoid plagiarism, identify your sources in one of two ways:


You can paraphrase or summarize something by reworking the ideas and writing them in your own words, in the way that you understand them (just substituting synonyms for some of the words isn’t enough). When you paraphrase, you still need to identify the source of the ideas with a parenthetical citation (see Using MLA Style or Using APA Style ). While paraphrasing can work for general ideas and information, you should always directly quote any single words or phrases that are distinctive to your source.

Direct Quotations

When you use the exact words or figures of any outside source you are directly quoting that source. To properly identify a direct quotation, place the information from the source inside double quotation marks (“like this”), followed by the proper parenthetical citation (see Using MLA Style or Using APA Style ). That way, the reader can see which words and ideas belong to you and which are taken directly from your source.