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Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is presenting another person's ideas or words as your own.

You probably know that plagiarism is a serious academic offense. But do you know when and how to cite sources? Not knowing the proper rules for citing ideas can lead to accidental plagiarism. Always cite everything that you obtain from an outside source, even if you came up with a similar idea on your own before you consulted it.

  • When quoting an author directly, use quotation marks to separate the author's words from your own.  Follow the quotation with a citation.
  • Even if you paraphrase an author by restating his or her ideas in your own words, you must cite the source.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

  • Take careful notes while researching. Note the source, the author, and the page number. Paraphrase the author properly, and use quotation marks when you copy the author's words directly.
  • Cite classmates and professors just as you would cite texts.
  •  Use quotation marks when repeating more than three consecutive words from the source.
  •  Paraphrasing is not just substituting synonyms for the author's words. Alter the order of thoughts and change the author's language to suit your writing. Remember to cite the paraphrased information.
  • If you're unsure whether to cite, ask someone—a professor, a CWS tutor, a friend, etc.
  • To learn the proper citation style, look in style guides such as The St. Martin's Handbook, the MLA Guide,the APA Manual, or the guide recommended by your instructor or department. Remember that there are several styles, so check with your professor about which one to use.
  • Always remember to cite as you write! Citation software such as Zotero or Mendeley can help keep track of sources, especially for large research assignments.

What is Not Plagiarism

  • Not citing common knowledge. There are no hard and fast rules governing what is considered
    common knowledge, so consult your instructor when in doubt.
  • Using the same word as the author of your source. Simple words and exact terms should be repeated in your essay for clarity (e.g., don't say "oblong leather sporting equipment" for "football").
  • Getting help from a CWS tutor or friend, as long as you remain the author of the paper and the originator of its ideas and your professor hasn’t told you not to, such as with a take-home exam.

A properly cited paper includes citations for all dictionaries, paraphrases, and borrowed ideas, and a works cited or references page.

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