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Plagiarism: understanding and avoiding: How to avoid plagiarism


Source: flickr under Creative Commons license

Keep track of your sources

As you find sources in the library databases, save the citations you plan to use in a temporary or permanent folder within the database.  Or email your saved citations to yourself before you leave the library database.

Take good notes

  • Create a detailed list of all of the sources you plan to use in your paper
  • Saving all of the citation details are critical for finding the resource again
  • Highlighting and underlining are good ways of identifying your direct quotes and paraphrases

Do not procrastinate

Researching, writing and citing take time.  If you allow yourself enough time, you will be less likely to unintenionally plagiarize.

When in doubt, cite your source!

How to avoid plagiarism

When writing an academic paper, you must acknowledge all the resources (oral, print or web) that you used in your research. Not only does this allow your instructor to locate the sources you mention, it prevents you from being accused of plagiarism. In most instances, plagiarism is unintentional; it can be confusing to know what to cite. In general, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you taken an exact quote from your original source?  

If yes, then you need to quote the source and provide a page number in your in-text citation. You must give them credit.

  • Have you paraphrased from your original source?

If yes, then you still must provide citation information. In MLA you must provide a page number. In APA, you don't have to provide page numbers though it is recommended.

  • You include information that you think is “common knowledge” such as: Victoria is the Capital of British Columbia. Do you need to cite this information?

No, you do not need to cite information that is considered "common knowledge."

  • Is it plagiarism to cut and paste from an electronic document without acknowledging the source?  

Absolutely. Just because it is easy to do, doesn't make it right. Cite the source!

  • You’ve added a statistic found on the Statistics Canada website. Since it is a government site, you do not need to cite the source. Is that correct?

No, it is not. Even government information must be cited.

Questions to ask yourself

1) Are you using your own independent material (i.e., material that reflects your own thoughts, opinion)?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, OK. If No, you need to CITE.

2) Are you using common knowledge (i.e., something that everyone knows)?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, OK. If No, you need to CITE.

3) Are you using someone else’s independent material (i.e., material NOT your own thoughts)?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, you need to CITE. If No, OK.

4) Do all the quotations exactly match their source?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, well done! If No, you need to make sure they are correctly matched.

5) Have you used your own words and sentence structures for every paraphrase and summary related to another’s work?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, well done! If No, you need to make sure you use quotation marks around the author’s/authors’ words.

6) Have you included an in-text citation for every paraphrase and summary related to another’s work?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, well done! If No, you need to make sure you create an in-text citation for each reference to another’s work, even when you put that idea into your own words.

7) Does your list of References include all the sources you have mentioned in your paper?

□ Yes            □ No

If Yes, well done! If No, you need to make sure all of the sources you mention in your paper are listed on your References/Works Cited/Bibliography page.

Source: Reproduced with permission of Erin K. Elgin, Business Instructor, and Nicole Forsythe, Librarian at Kirkwood Community College.

What you DON'T need to cite

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.