Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

Taking Notes

Careless note-taking increases the risk that you will unintentionally plagiarize. Unless you have taken notes carefully, it may be hard to tell whether you copied certain passages exactly, paraphrased them, or wrote them yourself. This is especially problematic when using electronic source materials, since they can so easily be copied and pasted into your own documents.

Identify words that you copy directly from a source by placing quotation marks around them, copying them in a different-colored ink, or highlighting them. (Do this immediately, as you are making your notes. Don't expect to remember days or weeks later, what phrases you copied directly.) Make sure to indicate the exact beginning and end of the quoted passage. Copy the wording, punctuation and spelling exactly as it appears in the original.

Jot down the page number and author or title of the source each time you make a note, even if you are not quoting directly but are only paraphrasing.

Keep a working bibliography of your sources so that you can go back to them easily when it's time to double-check the accuracy of your notes. If you do this faithfully during the note-taking phase, you will have no trouble completing the "works cited" section of your paper later on.

Keep a research log. As you search databases and consult reference books, keep track of what search terms and databases you used and the call numbers and url's of information sources. This will help if you need to refine your research strategy, locate a source a second time, or show your professor what works you consulted in the process of completing the project.

Documenting Sources

Borrowed material should be documented. Any time you incorporate into your writing ideas, words, key phrases, or pictures that were not originally created by you, you must give credit to the original author by citing the source.

You must cite direct quotes.

You must cite ideas given to you in a conversation, in correspondence, or over email.

You must cite sayings or quotations that are not familiar, or facts that are not "common knowledge." However, it is not necessary to cite a source if you are repeating a well known quote such as Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you . . .," or a familiar proverb such as "You can't judge a book by its cover." Common knowledge is something that is widely known. For example, it is common knowledge that Bill Clinton served two terms as president. It would not be necessary to cite a source for this fact.

Additional Sources to Document

There is a common misconception that only printed sources of information, like books and magazine articles, need to be formally cited. In fact, audiovisual and electronic sources -- even email messages -- must be documented as well, if you use ideas or words from them in your writing. Here are some examples of the kinds of sources that should be cited:

Printed sources: books, parts of books, magazine or journal articles, newspaper articles, letters, diaries, public or private documents.

Electronic sources: web pages, articles from e-journals, newsgroup postings, graphics, email messages, software, databases.

Images: works of art, illustrations, cartoons, tables, charts, graphs.

Recorded or spoken material: course lectures, films, videos, TV or radio broadcasts, interviews, public speeches, conversations.