Plagiarism: What it is and How to Avoid it

When a teacher or professor assigns a research paper, they are expecting an original, well-researched written piece to be handed in. What they’re not expecting is a research paper that is riddled with information that was “stolen” from other sources. This act of “stealing” someone else’s work and including it in your own project, without providing credit or acknowledging the original author or work, is called plagiarism.

Plagiarism can include:

  • Submitting an assignment that was written by someone else and passing it off as your own.
  • Including another author’s words or ideas in your assignment, without sharing where the information came from, and passing it off as your own.
  • Using another author’s words, but modifying the words by substituting them for synonyms.
  • Submitting an assignment that was already submitted in a previous class. Even if you wrote the original assignment yourself, you’re not allowed to pass it off as a “new” project.

The consequences of plagiarism can include a failing grade, course or school expulsion, and possibly even legal action.

How can you avoid plagiarism? Follow these simple steps.

1. Accurately Quote

A well-written paper includes a mix of the quotations, paraphrases, summarizations. For quotes, be sure to correctly write what the author said or wrote. Look up the actual quote; don’t try to do it from memory. Misquoting is a disservice to both you and the originator of the quote.

2. Properly Paraphrase

Paraphrasing allows you to frame supporting information from a source in your own words. However, if done poorly, this can lead to accidental plagiarism.

Paraphrasing is a great way to condense a passage, state technical information in layman’s terms, or focus on a particular point you want to highlight. Don’t simply replace a few words in the passage with synonyms, or change words around—use your own words and sentences to communicate the main idea. Including additional information, such as how the information was published or the credentials of the author, can be helpful.

Here is an example paraphrase of an excerpt taken from an op-ed author Neil Gaiman wrote for The Guardian in 2013.

Original Quote:

“I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.”


Many people think that studying non-fiction is more valuable than reading fiction. However, Neil Gaiman, an internationally renowned author for over 30 years, would argue that reading fiction is one of the best decisions you could make for yourself.

Full citation (created with help from this tool):

Gaiman, Neil. “Neil Gaiman: Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.” The Guardian, 15 Oct. 2013,

3. Add in-text citations in the body of your work

Place in-text citations directly after quotations and paraphrases, whenever possible. In-text citations show the reader that the information was borrowed from another source, and it gives them a brief idea as to where the information was borrowed from. There are many ways to format an in-text citation.

Here is an example of an in-text (or parenthetical) citation for a direct quote from Gaiman’s book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, in MLA format:

The boy said, “I bent down, dipped it into the water, rubbed my fingers across it to clean it off. I stared at it. Queen Victoria’s face stared back at me” (Gaiman 48).

If including the author’s name in the sentence, structure the in-text citation like this:

Gaiman shocks the reader when the boy says, “I bent down, dipped it into the water, rubbed my fingers across it to clean it off. I stared at it. Queen Victoria’s face stared back at me” (48).

In-text citations are also created when you use another author’s idea. This is called a paraphrase. Here is an example of an in-text citation for a paraphrase, in MLA format:

The reader realizes that the ghost-like creature is responsible for numerous, odd occurrences when the boy pulls the object out of the fish’s body, cleans it off, and finds that he’s holding a Queen Victoria coin (Gaiman 48).

The information included in the in-text citation is the last name of the author, Neil Gaiman, along with the page that the information was found on. To find the title of this particular book, and other information such as the publication date and publisher, researchers include the complete citation at the end of the assignment. This leads us to #3 on this list.

4. Add complete, or full citations, on the Works Cited page

In-text citations, as mentioned above, are rather brief. They only include the last name of the author and the page number. To locate the other information about the original source, turn to the last page of the paper or project, which is called the Works Cited page, sometimes called a bibliography.

The complete citations are listed in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. Here is the complete citation for the Neil Gaiman book, in MLA:

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. William Morrow, 2013.

The examples for the in-text and complete citations on this page are written in MLA format. There are other formats for citations, such as APA format, Chicago, and many, many more. Ask your professor or teacher which format they’d like your citations to be written in. If you need help creating your citations, there are many online guides, as well as website that create your citations quickly and easily. For examples, click here for MLA or see here for APA.

5. Cite as you write

Some students only add citations or references after they have completed research and writing. This is because the works cited list or bibliography is usually the last page of a project or paper and they don’t think of it until later. This is a mistake.

It is a best practice to add sources to your bibliography as you research and write. That way, you don’t forget to include or reference any sources, which could lead to accidental plagiarism. This can be prevented, as long as you add citations throughout your project and at the end of your assignment.

Technology has made citing much easier today than it was years ago. Citation generation tools (example: provide services that automatically create citations, or guide you through the process with citation guides and forms. WriteWell now has an integration that helps you cite over 50 different source types. Click here to find out more.

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