May 26, 2020  |  Purdue Global  |  Updated May 25, 2023

According to the joint research efforts of Dr. Donald McCabe and the International Center for Academic Integrity, nearly 30% of university students admit to having cheated in some way on an exam.

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
  • Paraphrasing
  • Citations
  • Plagiarism checkers, citation managers, and writing tools

The Purdue 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

University of Oxford notes eight common forms of plagiarism:

  • Verbatim plagiarism: Copying someone else’s work word for word.
  • Cutting and pasting from web pages without clear acknowledgement: Pulling information off the internet without referencing it and without including it in the bibliography.
  • Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing so closely so that the copy is almost an exact match to the original.
  • Collusion: In group projects, or projects in which you received help, failing to properly attribute the assistance or failure to follow the project’s rules.
  • Inaccurate citation: Failing to cite correctly, according to the conventions of your discipline.
  • Failure to acknowledge assistance: Failing to clearly acknowledge all assistance that has contributed to your work (ordinary proofreading and help from a tutor or supervisor is excepted).
  • Use of material written by professional agencies or other people: Using material that was written by a professional agency or another person, even if you have the consent of the person who wrote it.
  • Auto-plagiarism (also known as self-plagiarism): Reusing work that you’ve previously submitted or published; presenting that information as new when you’ve already gotten credit for the work.

A new concern revolves around AI and copying directly from chat, composition, and visual tools. Using prompts to generate content for assignments and passing it off as your own contribution is considered plagiarism. Various organizations use AI software to check for submissions generated by a chatbot.

Also, keep in mind that AI tools may produce inaccurate and unreliable information. While there may be valid use cases for informal AI-generated brainstorming, this is a complex and evolving topic. Be sure to verify the policy expressed by your school, professors, or professional organizations for recent developments.

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 it could get you expelled or dropped from a course. In less severe instances, plagiarism — both intentional and unintentional — may result in a grade penalty, course failure, or suspension. Beyond the academic consequences, plagiarism also tarnishes your reputation and minimizes your integrity. Whether you’re in school or the working world, plagiarism 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 Purdue Global Writing Center, 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.

Whether you’re quoting, summarizing, or paraphrasing, don’t forget to cite all sources.

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.

Paraphrasing Tips

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:

  • Reread 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 following your summary, whether it’s an endnote or footnote.

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.
  • Photographs: If you use your own photography or an image that allows use without attribution, no citation is required. In other cases, add a note below the image and a corresponding reference citation.

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, 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 research
  • 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.

Plagiarism Checkers

Citation Managers

>> Read: Apps and Extensions to Help You With APA Citations

Writing Tools

Check Out Purdue Global’s Writing Center Resources

The Purdue Global Writing Center can help guide students through the paper writing process — from avoiding plagiarism to proper paraphrasing to getting the right citations.

Students may access this resource from the Purdue Global campus homepage. Click “My Studies,” followed by “Academic Success Center.”

From there, students have several options:

  • Ask a writing tutor
  • Connect with a tutor for a one-on-one session
  • Browse the Study Studio
  • Watch webinars

Students can check out the Using Sources & APA Style page, which includes several resources to guide students through the process of formatting a document and citing sources in the American Psychological Association (APA) style. The Plagiarism Information page offers a tutorial designed to help students identify instances of plagiarism and understand how to avoid them.

About the Author

Purdue Global

Earn a degree you're proud of and employers respect at Purdue Global, Purdue's online university for working adults. Accredited and online, Purdue Global gives you the flexibility and support you need to come back and move your career forward. Choose from 175+ programs, all backed by the power of Purdue.

Filed in:


Third-Party Products and Services: Links from the Purdue Global website to third-party sites do not constitute an endorsement by Purdue Global of the parties or their products and services. Purdue Global cannot guarantee that certain products will continue to be offered by their publishers for free. Users of third-party websites are responsible for reviewing the terms of use and being familiar with the privacy policy of such third-party websites.