How can I Avoid Plagiarism?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

When people learn to write reports that require research, common mistakes may accidentally evoke a charge of plagiarism. Obviously, lifting material straight from something else, presenting someone else’s work as your own, or purchasing essays on the Internet is no way to avoid plagiarism. In this article, the focus will be on the unintentional plagiarism that may occur when people don’t know all the rules of explaining where they got words, quotes or ideas, instead of these more deliberate acts of plagiarism.

Using a notebook to track sources while performing research may help avoid plagiarism.
Using a notebook to track sources while performing research may help avoid plagiarism.

Especially with Internet research so common, and the ability to look through the many sources you may find when you research, one of the most important things to do as you’re searching is to keep track each time you look at a new page to avoid plagiarism. If you’re conducting research from your home computer, one of the best ways to keep track is by creating a file of bookmarks specific to your research. This is handy when you want to go back and look at something again, and it further reminds you of every piece of work you’ve looked at.

Keep track of all sources so they can be included in a bibliography.
Keep track of all sources so they can be included in a bibliography.

Even if you don’t specifically use a work when you write your paper, you may want to keep track of each piece so you can add a works consulted list to your bibliography. Depending upon your method of citation, which differs with different academic fields, you may call these "secondary sources" or "works consulted." Alternately they may just be included in a bibliography.

Another method useful if you’re looking at material for quotes on the Internet is to use the cut and paste option on your computer. First copy the web address and paste into any word processing document. Then copy any quotes or material you might paraphrase below the address. Be sure to also either type or copy and paste the author’s name into the word document.

When you’re using material from books, magazines or newspapers, you’ll use exactly the same method to avoid plagiarism. Write down the full title of the source, the author/authors, titles of any articles, date and place of publication, and then write any quotes you think might prove relevant. Be sure to include page numbers of a whole article, and when you quote, list the specific page number from which you derived the quote. Be accurate about page numbers since some people will want to go back and look at your source material.

Some people use index cards to keep their sources intact before they write. Others use notebooks or laptop computers. All are valid ways to keep track of what you’ve read so you can avoid plagiarism. Don’t forget that even when you paraphrase someone else’s theories or ideas, you must give credit. If you paraphrase a few paragraphs of a person’s thoughts, name that person and include a citation where you can find the full quote.

In sum, most of the ways you avoid plagiarism can be attributed to keeping good records and making sure that accurate citations get into anything you write. To help people more fully understand your topic, list works you may have consulted but not used, since others might want to follow in your path for different topics or similar ones. Make sure to always give credit. If you can’t remember where you found something or what page number you found it on, don’t use it. It is far better to write a weaker paper if you absolutely have to and avoid plagiarism, than it is to inaccurately cite or fail to give credit to the people who essentially helped you write your paper through their research and writings.

Students who plagiarize from other students may face harsh penalties.
Students who plagiarize from other students may face harsh penalties.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Something that makes it easier to avoid unintentional plagiarism is to learn one style of citation and use it for every piece of writing.

I know that sometimes instructors have preferences for a specific style, but most will allow different styles. I think you should select one that you find easiest to work with and actually memorize how to cite books, internet sources and articles. If you do this, you can add sources to your works cited right away without having to look up the style. It will make it faster for you, and you won't avoid doing it.

I always use Chicago style citation. I know how to cite everything, in page and paragraph form; whether it is a book, an internet site, a magazine, a pdf or a news article. When I've used a source, I can cite it right away and add it to my works cited.


These are all excellent points. If I could only give you one suggestion as a graduate student who has written so many papers until now, it would be "don't get caught up in your paper and leave citations and bibliography till the end."

Especially if you are writing long papers with multiple parts to it, you are probably going to go through so many different material that if you don't cite things and add the source to your bibliography from the start, you will definitely forget about it.

That's why you should give preference to citations when you have found something you can use for your paper. I know how it is, I also get very excited when I have found a valuable piece of information and want to get that idea into my paper right away. But if you skip citations at this stage, you might not be able to find that source, or the location of that phrase again.

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