Avoiding Plagiarism

Barry Mauer and John Venecek

We discuss the following topics on this page:

We provide the following activities:

Avoiding Plagiarism

Susan A. Crane explains: “copying isn’t the problem that produces plagiarism; lack of citation does.” Scholars use other people’s ideas and words all the time. You can use as many of them as you need; there’s no limit! The only requirement is that you cite them.

Scholars keep track of their references as a way to build upon and give credit to other scholars. The trail of references from one scholar to another are like breadcrumbs that researchers can follow to find their path back through a scholarly discourse. By citing others, we are respecting their work and the tradition that keeps the trail of breadcrumbs legible so others can follow it after us.

Plagiarism is not just a theft of someone else’s ideas or words, but is also a violation of the code that scholars and researchers live by. Without a clear picture of where ideas and scholarly language comes from, we lose our trail.

Wendy Belcher, in her book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, provides advice for avoiding plagiarism. First, she notes that you will be caught. Especially with the digital search tools available today, checking for plagiarism has become fast and easy. And the penalties can be severe. Plagiarism has cost scholars their reputations and livelihoods. It’s just not worth it!

To Avoid Plagiarism, Do Not[1]

  • Present someone else’s entire work as your own
  • Change little bits and call it your own
  • Reword it and call it your own
  • Translate it and call it your own
  • Take sections or paragraphs and call it your own
  • Use word-for-word quotes unless you put them in quotation marks and properly cite them (161).

Additionally, be careful when paraphrasing that your wording is too close. If you are having a hard time paraphrasing, it is better to use direct quotes instead of paraphrasing (161).

Finally, don’t re-use your own work without acknowledging it. Self-plagiarism, in which scholars re-use direct language from other works they’ve published or submitted for credit, is also wrong.

It is always fine to cite other scholars in your work. Scholars do it all the time. But you must give proper credit.


There are several resources available via the UCF Libraries and Writing Center to help you avoid plagiarism:

  • Writing Center Handout: This quick-reference guide distinguishes between plagiarism and the misuse of sources as well as what types of materials require citations, the basics of quoting, paraphrasing, and more. Also see this handout on quoting and paraphrasing.
  • Video Tutorial: The following videos were created as part of the UCF Libraries’ Research Tips Thursdays webinars, a weekly series designed to help students develop their research skills. The videos featured here focus on skills that every researcher needs to know: When to quote others, how to paraphrase, and why we cite.

To Quote Or Not To Quote [1 min 59 sec]

Use Your Words: Paraphrasing Made Easy [1 min 28 sec]

Why We Cite [2 min 15 sec]


Avoiding Plagiarism ModulesThese modules cover Avoiding Plagiarism and Citing Sources in both MLA and APA styles. They’re a good way to test your knowledge once you’ve read the above handouts and watched the video.

For more information and Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Plagiarism, consider the following from The Purdue Online Writing Lab:[3]

There are instances when something is clearly intentional plagiarism: buying, stealing, or borrowing a paper from someone else. This includes:

  • Copying a blog post or stealing an article from online.
  • Hiring someone to write your paper for you.
  • Copying a large section of text from a source without making it clear it comes from somewhere else through quotation marks or proper citation.
  • Intentionally failing to cite someone else’s work, to claim that the ideas and words belong to you.
  • It is possible to plagiarize from yourself. In academia, if you repurpose a paper from previous class or write one paper for two classes without the instructor’s permission this is plagiarism.

Writers may also unintentionally plagiarize. This usually happens for a few common reasons:

  • The writer doesn’t fully understand the citation system they are using and ends up missing key elements of the source attribution.
  • The writer thinks they are paraphrasing (restating a source’s point in their own words) and ends up accidentally directly quoting words or phrases without realizing.
  • The writer misattributes a quote or idea to the wrong source; this is especially common in larger research projects where the writer is dealing with a lot of source material.

Here is a brief list of what needs to be credited or documented:

  • Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, website, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium.
  • Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing.
  • When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase.
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials.
  • When you reuse or repost any digital media, including images, audio, video, or other media.

There are certain things that do not need documentation or credit, including:

  • Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject.
  • When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments.
  • When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
  • When you are using “common knowledge,” things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents).
  • When you are using generally accepted facts (e.g., pollution is bad for the environment) including facts that are accepted within particular discourse communities (e.g., in the field of composition studies, “writing is a process” is a generally accepted fact).

For more advice on some of the Best Practices to Avoid Plagiarism, consider the following from The Purdue Online Writing Lab:[4]

  • Reading & Notetaking
    • Take notes with the same citation habits you would use in the paper.
    • If you have a lot of online sources such as journal articles in PDF format, use a PDF reader to write your notes on the source directly so they do not get disconnected from the original.
    • Use a citation manager like Zotero and keep a copy of your notes associated with the source entry there.
  • Interviewing & Conversing
    • Take lots of thorough notes; if you have any of your own thoughts as you’re interviewing, mark them clearly.
    • If you’re interviewing via email, retain copies of the interview subject’s emails as well as the ones you send in reply. If your email server allows it, create individual folders that you can further organize in order to have easy access if you need to go back.
  • Writing Paraphrases & Summaries
    • Use a statement that makes it clear you are referencing another source (e.g. According to Jonathan Kozol…).
    • If you are struggling with a summary, try to paraphrase or summarize the text without looking at the original source material, and simply rely on your memory. What sticks out to you about the original source is what will be important for you to discuss anyways.
    • Put quotation marks around any unique words or phrases that you cannot or do not want to change.
  • Writing Direct Quotations
    • Keep the source author’s name in the same sentence as the quote.
    • Mark the quote with quotation marks or set it off from your text in its own block, per the style guide your paper follows.
    • Quote no more material than necessary; if a short phrase from a source will suffice, don’t quote an entire paragraph.
    • To shorten quotes by removing extra information, use ellipses (…) to indicate omitted text, keeping in mind that:
  • Writing About Someone Else’s Ideas
    • The name of the idea’s originator should always be mentioned in the sentence or throughout a paragraph about the idea.
    • Parenthetical citations, footnotes, and endnotes are used to refer readers to additional sources about the idea, as necessary. This is why citation is important so that your teachers or classmates are able to find the original source material if they want to.

If, after exhausting these resources, you need additional help or clarification about plagiarism, please make an appointment with the Writing Center or consult with your instructor.


ChatGPT and other Artificial Intelligence tools present new opportunities and challenges to scholars. They can be useful tools for producing facts (you always want to double check them) and summaries, overcoming writer’s block, helping with revisions, and trying different formats (such as stories, questions, instructions). Of course, you should not claim that AI-generated writing is something you wrote. You can quote it and cite it in your work just as you would any other source. You can claim credit for writing original prompts and for modifying the output of an AI. Check with your instructor for their policies related to AI for assignments.

Chat-GPT and other generative AI tools have the ability to write your paper for you. Is this ok? Of course not! Generating text via a machine means you did not write it. Passing it off as your own writing is ethically wrong and could land you in a lot of trouble. Does that mean you should never use these tools? No. There are a variety of legitimate reasons for using Chat-GPT, such as gathering background information, comparing and contrasting your ideas with those of a generated text, investigating the capacity of AI tools, etc. If you want to use Chat-GPT for any of these reasons, you should make sure your instructor is ok with it. Then, if you plan to incorporate any of the generated text in your research project, you should do the following:

    • Explain and justify why you are using generative AI.
    • Explain how you are using AI to address a problem; are you using it to summarize research? develop an outline? develop possible research questions?
    • Provide the prompt you used to generate the text.
    • Make sure the entirety of any generated text is quoted and properly attributed in your final work.

Avoiding Plagiarism [Refresher]

Take this quiz to check your comprehension of this section.
If you are using an offline version of this text, access the quiz for this section via the QR code.


Exercise for Avoiding Plagiarism from The Purdue Online Writing Lab:[5]

Read over each of the following questions, and respond to a discussion post as to whether or not each uses citations accurately. If it doesn’t, improve it so it’s properly cited. All the questions refer to the following passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”:

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

  1. Dr. King was certain that nobody would want to be contented with a feigning type of social analysis that concerns itself only with effects and doesn’t deal with root causes.
  2. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that the city of Birmingham’s “white power structure” left African-Americans there with “no alternative” but to demonstrate (“Letter from the Birmingham Jail” para. 5).
  3. In “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” King writes to fellow clergy saying that although they “deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham, your statement fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”

  1. In the “Back Matter” of this book, you will find a page titled “Rubrics.” On that page, we provide a rubric for Avoiding Plagiarism
  2. Purdue Writing Lab, and Rachel Atherton. “‘Should I Cite This?" Poster.” Purdue Writing Lab, 2020, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/avoiding_plagiarism/should_i_cite_this_poster.html.
  3. Purdue Writing Lab. “Plagiarism FAQs.” Purdue Writing Lab, 2021, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/avoiding_plagiarism/plagiarism_faq.html.
  4. Purdue Writing Lab. “Plagiarism FAQs.” Purdue Writing Lab, 2021, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/avoiding_plagiarism/plagiarism_faq.html.
  5. Purdue Writing Lab. “Plagiarism Exercise.” Purdue Writing Lab, 2021, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/avoiding_plagiarism/plagiarism_exercise.html.


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Avoiding Plagiarism Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer and John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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