According to the joint research efforts of Dr. Donald McCabe and the International Center for Academic Integrity, 62% of undergraduate students and 40% of graduate students admit to cheating on written assignments.
Understanding how and when to cite sources is a critical skill for students to learn. Whether you borrow someone’s ideas from a textbook, blog post, or academic journal, you must give proper credit while representing the source’s ideas fairly and coherently. This guide covers:
- Plagiarism checkers, citation managers, and writing tools
What Is Plagiarism?
On its Basic Citation Guidelines page, the Purdue University Global Writing Center defines plagiarism as “using another's words, ideas, results, or images without giving appropriate credit to that person, therefore, giving the impression that it is your own work.”
Types of Plagiarism
The Harvard College Writing Program notes six common forms of plagiarism:
- Verbatim plagiarism: You copy someone else’s work word for word.
- Mosaic plagiarism: You take pieces from one or more sources and fail to sufficiently paraphrase or directly quote information.
- Inadequate paraphrase: Your paraphrase too closely resembles the original content.
- Uncited paraphrase: You properly paraphrase someone else’s content but don’t give credit to the original source.
- Uncited quotation: You quote information in your writing but don’t provide the original source for your readers.
- Using another student’s work: You submit and take full credit for another student’s ideas.
It’s important to note that plagiarism can be intentional or unintentional. Unintentional plagiarism occurs when a student unknowingly cites a source inaccurately or improperly. Intentional plagiarism, on the other hand, is when a student chooses not to cite a source or tries to pass off someone else’s ideas as their own.
Consequences of Plagiarism
The consequences of plagiarism vary by institution, but could get you expelled or dropped from a course. In less severe instances, plagiarism—both intentional and unintentional—may result in a grade penalty, fine, or suspension. Beyond the academic consequences, plagiarizing also tarnishes your reputation and minimizes your integrity. Whether you’re in school or the working world, plagiarizing is not a good look.
How to Avoid Plagiarism
The key to avoiding plagiarism is learning how to incorporate research into your writing. According to the Plagiarism Information page on the Purdue Global Writing Center website, you can do this in the following ways:
- Quoting: If you don’t want to alter a source, use quotation marks to enclose all verbatim phrases.
- Summarizing: If you find multiple relevant points in a lengthy text, simplify them into your own condensed synopsis.
- Paraphrasing: If you want to use a source’s information, restate it in your own words through “new wording and phrasing in just as many words or slightly more words than the original.”
What Is Paraphrasing?
Paraphrasing is using your own words to convey the meaning of an excerpt. It shows your reader that you did your research and understand the content. While students may understand that they need to cite sources, many struggle with paraphrasing the ideas of others into their own words. However, like many aspects of writing, effective paraphrasing is a skill developed over time.
How to Approach Paraphrasing
The goal of paraphrasing is to translate the original work into your own wording and sentence structure. The best way to approach this is to focus on the meaning of the text, forcing you to interact with its purpose and context.
A good way to judge your understanding of material is to see if you can explain it to someone else. Once you have this level of understanding, it’s easier to create effective paraphrases—changing the language and structure of a passage becomes more manageable.
Here are some tips to help you paraphrase:
- Re-read the passage until you fully understand its meaning.
- Write your own summary of the passage, without referencing the original.
- Check that your summary accurately captures the context of the original passage.
- Document the source information on your summary, whether it’s on a note card or piece of paper.
- Use quotes around necessary verbatim information.
Remember that you still need to cite your paraphrases, but your follow-up analysis and discussion points belong to you.
What Requires Citation?
Any time you use information that isn’t common knowledge or you didn’t come up with yourself, you must cite it. The following requires citation, usually through in-text citation or a reference list entry:
- Quotes: If you are quoting the actual words someone said, put the words in quotation marks and cite the source.
- Information and ideas: If you obtain ideas or information from somewhere else, cite it—even if you paraphrase the original content.
- Illustrations: If you use someone else’s graphic, table, figure, or artwork, you must credit the source. These may also require permission and a copyright notice.
Common Knowledge Exception
You don’t need to cite information that’s considered common knowledge in the public domain—as long as you reword the well-known fact. According to the Purdue Global Writing Center’s Basic Citation Guidelines page, information must have the following traits to be considered common knowledge:
- The reader would already be aware of it.
- It’s a widely accepted fact; for example, there are 24 hours in a day.
- It’s accessible via common information sources.
- It originates from folklore or a well-known story.
- It’s commonly acknowledged in your field and known by your audience.
Why Citation Is Important
The importance of citation goes beyond the avoidance of plagiarism. According to the Purdue Global Writing Center’s Plagiarism Information page, citation:
- Distinguishes new ideas from existing information
- Reinforces arguments regarding a particular topic
- Allows readers to find your sources and conduct additional information
- Maintains ethical research and writing
- Ensures attribution of ideas, avoiding plagiarism
Additionally, proper citation enhances your credibility with readers, displays your critical thinking skills, and demonstrates your strong writing ability.
Plagiarism Prevention and Writing Resources
It takes time to develop strong writing and paraphrasing skills. Thinking of writing as more of a discussion than a report may help you develop your skills. Remember that it’s not about reporting and repeating information; it’s about expanding on ideas and making them your own.
Below are some tools to help you avoid plagiarism, accurately cite sources, and improve your writing as you develop your own unique voice.
Check Out Purdue Global’s Writing Center Resources
Purdue Global’s Writing Center has additional resources to help students with their citation and paraphrasing skills. The Citation Guides page includes helpful “how to” videos that guide students through the process of formatting a document and citing sources in APA (American Psychological Association) format. The Plagiarism Information page offers a tutorial designed to help students identify instances of plagiarism and understand how to avoid them.