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How to Avoid Plagiarism

  • First, do your own work - Begin your research project as early as possible. Keep up in class, do your library work and start your drafts in a timely fashion. Writing your paper will be so much easier if not put it off to the last minute. Procrastination is not a credible excuse; it's simply a bad choice. Performing under deadline pressures often pushes a student into cheating.
  • Second, establish your own voice - Easier said than done, but this is a key ingredient to your success and a primary difficulty all experienced writers have had to face and overcome. Learn as much as you can about your topic: it will help you develop a point-of-view from which to speak. The more you know, the easier it will be to avoid plagiarism.
  • Third, do your research carefully. Read the material closely. Knowing your topic well includes knowing what others have said. Strive for a mastery of your topic by introducing yourself intellectually to those who have already made a contribution, or are presently adding to the ongoing conversation. Keep an annotated bibliography of the source material you intend to use in your paper.
  • Fourth, keep copies of all your drafts - In review, you will notice your own point-of-view developing, changing and growing; a voice of authority all your own, emerging. It will stand in contrast to those of your sources. The difference between yours and their voices will go a long way toward helping you avoid plagiarism.
  • Finally, make sure that your document is properly constructed and your sources correctly cited. Remember, if the general concept, idea, quotation, statistic, fact, illustration, graph or data you intend to include is not common knowledge in the field of your investigation, a source must be cited. Not doing so will damage your credibility.


If possible, share hard copies of "work-in-progress" with your instructor.  As you move toward completion invite constructive suggestions, which can only make your paper better. This is where errors, especially citation errors, get pointed out and corrected so that there will be no grounds for plagiarism charges.

Checklist of questions to ask yourself before handing in your work:

  • Are all quotations surrounded by quotation marks?
  • Are single and double quotation marks properly used in quotations within quotations?
  • Are ellipses and brackets included in quotations where words have been deleted or comments added?
  • Are any quotations, paraphrases or summaries attributed to the wrong author? Are any missing an attribution completely?
  • Are your paraphrases worded significantly different than the original?
  • Are your summaries written in your own voice?
  • Are all your source citations included in your bibliography or sources cited page?
  • Are the titles, page numbers and dates in your documentation correct?


From Writing@CSU, an open-access, educational Web site supported by Colorado State University. Copyright © 1993-2010 Colorado State University and/or this site's authors, developers, and contributors.

Help with Questions

Where to get help if you have questions about citing sources and plagiarism:

How to Paraphrase: Avoid Plagiarism

More Tips on Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Paraphrase correctly and cite your sources:
  • Synthesize a passage of text and describe it (the idea) in your own words
  • Restate or summarize someone else's words or ideas (that fall outside of common knowledge) and give credit to the author
  • Use quotation marks around a phrase or sentence that you use whether from a print source, electronic source or a Web site
  • Cite the source of your information, whether it's from a print source, electronic source or on the Internet, unless it's considered common  knowledge. Common knowledge is information that a majority of people either know or can find in a variety of sources, such as historic facts and geographic data.  Common knowledge does not need to be cited.

Examples of common knowledge:

  • Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States.
  • The U.S. entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
  • A genome is all the DNA in an organism, including its genes.

How can I tell whether I've plagiarized or not?

If you’ve followed the above guidelines but still aren’t sure whether you’ve plagiarized, you can double-check your work using the checklist below.

You need to cite your source, even if:

  • you put all direct quotes in quotation marks
  • you changed the words used by the author into synonyms.
  • you completely paraphrased the ideas to which you referred.
  • your sentence is mostly made up of your own thoughts, but contains a reference to the author’s ideas.
  • you mention the author’s name in the sentence.

The moral of the story is  When in doubt, give a citation.

© 2019 The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.