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Plagiarism: Understanding and avoiding

Why should I cite?

  • You’re avoiding allegations of plagiarism – very important!
  • You’re recognizing the work & words of someone other than yourself.
  • Your sources help establish credibility for your topic/position.
  • You’re demonstrating that you have done some scholarly research and your sources help establish credibility for your topic/position.

When must I cite?

  • When you use an exact quote from a research source 
  • When you paraphrase someone else’s ideas (you must still give them credit)
  • Changing a few words here & there is not paraphrasing – you must re-work content to use your own words.  And, it’s still someone else’s idea and you must give them credit
  • Definitely when you “copy & paste” from a research source

Common knowledge

Do I need to cite a source for a statement that is common knowledge?

If an idea or fact is widely know and not disputed, it is referred to as common knowledge and does not need to be cited. This information is generally known by everyone within the discipline and can be found in numerous sources.

Examples of common knowledge:

  • Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister of Canada.
  • Many scientists are researching global warming.
  • The capital of British Columbia is Victoria.

It is important to understand the distinction between common and specialized knowledge. If you're not sure whether a given idea counts as common knowledge, aways err on the side of caution:   When in doubt, cite it.

 Examples of specialized knowledge:

  • According to Statistics Canada's The Daily, real gross domestic product rose 0.3% in August.
  • A recent article in The Times-Colonist revealed that a local Victoria author spent 18 years studying Lewis Carroll's masterpiece, Alice in Wonderland.


Reusing your work from one class in another class is known as "self-plagiarism."

Why does self-plagiarism matter?

Say you submit a paper for a class and receive a good grade. Next semester you submit that same paper again for a different class and receive another grade.

You just received two grades, but you only did the work once. Self-plagiarism is essentially a form of dishonesty.