How to Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism updated on  September 5, 2023 6 min read

Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s writing as your own, and it can have serious consequences. To avoid plagiarism, you should:

  • Cite your sources
  • Use quotation marks for quotes
  • Be original in your writing and ideas
  • Take notes
  • Use a plagiarism checker

The best way to avoid plagiarism is to do all of the above. We know that sounds like a tall order, but it's really easy to do.

Cite Your Sources

The best way to ensure you're avoiding plagiarism is to cite your sources.

Plagiarism occurs when a writer takes text from someone else's work and uses it in their own writing without a citation. Without this citation, the reader has no way of knowing what the original source is, and they’ll assume the text or idea is original to whatever they're reading.

Make sure to keep a running list of citation information for each source you pull from. Whether you use a piece of concrete text or an idea / theory, you'll want to be able to keep track of each source as you use it.

If your source is online, write down the URL, the author’s name, the title of the piece, and the publication date. If you need any extra information later on, you can quickly access it by using the url. If your source comes from a book, write down the title, the author’s name, the publisher, and the publication date. Again, any additional info for your reference page can be found later, should you need it.

You'll need both in-text citations and full-length citations for each source, in most cases. Our Citation Generator not only creates all types of citations for you, but includes information on different citation styles and rules.

Example (in APA format):Salinger, J. D. (1951). The catcher in the rye. Little, Brown and Company.

Need to Cite sources used by you?
QuillBot's Citation Generator will enable you in quickly creating citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, and other styles.

Use Quotation Marks

By putting the source material in quotation marks, you are separating it from your own words.

The presence of quotation marks signifies that the text within has come from elsewhere, so your audience will automatically know they’re reading the words of another author and not assume the words are yours.

There is one exception to this rule, and that is paraphrased material. Paraphrases don’t get quotation marks because the new paraphrased material has not been written out in that way before. Quotation marks are only needed when copying text exactly.

Of course, even quoted material needs proper citations as well, but using quotation marks is another important step to avoiding plagiarism.

Example:In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden is always contradicting himself, like when he says, “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot” (Salinger, 1951).

Don't Copy Ideas (or, Be Original)

So we know that copying words can mean plagiarism, but how about ideas?

You can certainly use someone else's ideas in your work, but this is where things get tricky. You can't make it seem like the idea is your own, like it came from your own brain.

While ideas are more nebulous than quotes, and they won't always come in a nice, quotable form, it's still important that you give credit where credit is due.

Here's an example:

"It was John Locke who originally stated that all knowledge comes from experience..."
This way, you are crediting the idea of empiricism ("all knowledge comes from experience") to its original source (John Locke).

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to just be original. Use your own words and your own ideas to supplement your thesis and the sources that are supporting it.

Instead of just using the above quote by John Locke and calling it a day, add your own interpretation of his idea or give an opinion. This will show your audience that you are acknowledging his originality while also bringing something unique to the table. If you think your writing skills aren't quite up to par yet, no worries. You can use a grammar checker to make sure your essay is error-free. This way, you'll be sure to avoid plagiarism and have an amazing original paper.

Take Notes

Sometimes, plagiarism occurs as a result of a faulty memory. Although it may be accidental, plagiarism is still plagiarism, no matter the intention.

To avoid forgetting which sources you've used, which ones you have and haven't created citations for, and which sources are used where, take notes! Write everything down that might be relevant to avoiding plagiarism. This could include titles, website urls, author names, and publication dates.

Better yet, use an online citation generator as you write. That way, you’ll never forget any important details, and your reference list will grow as you research.

It only takes one or two seconds to jot something down, and these notes could end up saving you later as you scramble to recall where you read what, and when.

Use a Plagiarism Checker

Avoiding plagiarism can seem like a full-time job, which is why it's good to have some help.

Plagiarism checkers are online tools that will scan your text and determine how much of your paper is similar to other papers, books, essays, and miscellaneous academic writing sources.

Check plagiarism in your text now
QuillBot's detects plagiarism in your text and makes sure that it is plagiarism-free.

Once you get your percentage of similar text from the plagiarism checker, make sure to go back through your paper to ensure that the similar text has been cited properly. If it has, you're good to go – otherwise, you need to add some citations.

Avoiding Plagiarism When Paraphrasing

A lot of people think that if they paraphrase another source's text or ideas, it's not plagiarism because the "new words" came from them.

This is wrong. It’s still plagiarism if you paraphrase an original source text without a citation.

Even paraphrased text needs proper acknowledgement. Whether you're summing up a complicated idea, summarizing a long quote, or changing the language to fit better in your paper, you need to cite the original source.

It's totally fine to paraphrase, but just make sure you're following the proper citation rules when doing so. It’s crucial to add a citation to the end of the paraphrased text.

Here is an example of a paraphrase that would need a citation:

"In his famous soliloquy, Hamlet was asking if it is more noble to live through hardship, or to end one's life because that would put an end to excess heartbreak and trauma."

Without a citation, the above would be considered plagiarism. It would require a citation at the end, like this: (3.1.56–63).

Here’s what that all looks like together:

"In his famous soliloquy, Hamlet was asking if it is more noble to live through hardship, or to end one's life because that would put an end to excess heartbreak and trauma” (3.1.56–63).

Avoiding Plagiarism When Summarizing

Of course, you'll run into instances when it's easier for both you and your audience to summarize a quote or idea. Especially for a research paper, the concepts you'll be talking about can be pretty in-depth and confusing for someone not researching the same topic. Summarizing will also ensure that you convey your ideas in a concise manner; it’s not always practical to use entire quotes, and the summary will save you space as well.

Much like paraphrases, summarized text and ideas must be attributed to their original sources as well. Just because you're changing the text to make it shorter doesn't make it yours.

Here's an example of a summary that would need a citation:

"In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet is wondering about death, asking himself if he should end his life. He thinks killing himself is the only action he can truly take; he is passive in all other aspects of life, which are determined through fate. He is powerless in his own eyes and warring between perceived right and wrong.”
Again, this would require a citation of (3.1.56–63).

If you are wanting to know more about plagiarism here is some related reading:

FAQs - How to Avoid Plagiarism

What are some examples of plagiarism?

  • Turning someone else's work in as your own
  • Copying and pasting without citing
  • Paraphrasing without citing
  • Summarizing without citing
  • Using an incorrect citation

Why should you not plagiarize?

Plagiarism has serious consequences.

Plagiarizing another source can lead to failing an assignment, failing a class, getting suspended from school, or even getting permanently expelled. There are very rarely second chances when one plagiarizes.

Plagiarism is unethical because the plagiarizer is essentially stealing work from the original author and gaining all of the benefits that the original author worked hard to obtain.

Once you are caught plagiarizing, it will be hard to earn back the trust and respect or the reputation that you once had.


Paige Pfeifer

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.

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