Avoiding Plagiarism


Tip #1: Make Sure You Are Very Certain about What Is and is Not Plagiarism

Credit: “What is plagiarism?” by Virtual High School.License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

Tip #2: Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Complete an Assignment

Running out of time on an assignment is a common cause of plagiarism. Rushing to meet a deadline can result in carelessness (leading to unintentional plagiarism – see the next tip) and the desire to find a quick, easy solution, such as copying someone else’s work. Don’t give in to that temptation! Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, and the chance of being caught (which is likely) is not worth it.

Avoid this situation entirely by starting your assignment far ahead of time and planning out when you will complete each phase of the writing process. Even if your teacher does not require you to turn in materials for each stage of the writing process (i.e. brainstorming, creating a thesis statement, outlining, drafting, revising, etc.), set your own personal deadlines for each step along the way and make sure to give yourself more than enough time to finish everything.

Tip #3: Document Everything

Plagiarism isn’t always a conscious choice. Sometimes, it can be unintentional, typically resulting from poor documentation of one’s sources during the research phase. For example, sometimes students will write down an idea from a source using words identical to or very close to those in the original, but then when they go to write their paper, they forget that the material was not already in their own words. Adopting good research habits, such as creating citations during the research process, can prevent this type of plagiarism.

Tip #4: When in Doubt, Give a Citation

There are certain types of information – typically referred to as common knowledge – that don’t require a citation when you include them in your writing.  These are facts that are widely known and can be easily found in a number of sources. They are not ideas that originated with one particular source.  Examples include basic scientific facts (for example, that solid, liquid, and gas are three states of matter), general historical information (for example, that George Washington was the first US president), or even information commonly known to certain groups of people but not others (for example, most musicians know that a C major triad includes the notes C, E, and G, even though many non-musicians would have no idea what a C major triad is).

For everything else, you need to include a citation, regardless of whether you are quoting directly from the source, paraphrasing it, or giving a summary. If you are unsure whether something qualifies as common knowledge, give a citation. You can also consult a more experienced figure in your field, such as your instructor, to find out if something counts as common knowledge.

In academic writing, the “Quote Sandwich” approach is useful for incorporating other writers’ voices into your essays.  It gives meaning and context to a quote and helps you avoid plagiarism.  This 3-step approach offers your readers a deeper understanding of what the quote is and how it relates to your essay’s goals.

  1. Step 1: Provide context for the source.  If you haven’t used it yet in the essay, tell us the source’s title and author (if known), and any other information that’s relevant, like the purpose of the organization that published it, for instance.
  2. Step 2: Provide the quote itself.  Be sure to format correctly and use quotation marks around exact language.
  3. Step 3: Provide a summary and/or analysis of what the quote says, and how it relates to the subject matter of your essay and your thesis.


Adapted from Lumen Learning’s “Avoiding Plagiarism” from English Composition II used according to CC BY 4.0.


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UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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