How do you appropriately cite sources and avoid plagiarism?

The internet’s fantastic ability to let you grab content, paste it into another document, make edits and publish it online has made plagiarism a very simple process. Some people plagiarize without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. To avoid plagiarism you first have to understand its definition, the process of paraphrasing, and what it means to appropriately cite sources.


  • Plagiarism is stealing someone else’s work or ideas and claiming it as your own. It is a serious offence and can have serious consequences. Even when the content you are copying is not under copyright, you still must cite your sources.
  • Paraphrasing is to restate a concept with your own words. This is far more than just switching around a word or two; it is a complete restatement of the original content.
  • Citing means to give acknowledgment, or credit to, the person who actually created the content you’re using.

With these definitions, it is easy to identify plagiarism – it occurs any time someone tries to take credit for someone else’s work, thoughts or content.

Plagiarizing is more than just dishonest; it can have serious consequences for students, including failing grades on papers, failing a class and suspension. For adults, the consequences of plagiarizing material can be even more severe. College students can be kicked out of college for plagiarism, and employees who plagiarize content in their jobs are likely to be fired. And the chances of getting caught for plagiarism is increasing as teachers leverage search tools specifically designed to check content for plagiarized pieces.

Here are common examples of plagiarism:

  • Turning in someone else's work—art, paper, report, photos, etc.—as your own
  • Taking content and changing it a bit—like changing some words—without giving credit
  • Taking someone else’s ideas without giving credit
  • Taking a quote from a source but failing to put quotation marks around the quote or cite the source
  • Falsifying the source of a quotation
  • Copying so many words or ideas from a source that your report or essay is almost entirely the work of someone else without giving that person credit.

you’re researching content for an assignment but fail to copy the URLs of the websites you visited, citing your sources – or remembering that a piece of content is actually a quote that needs to be in quotation marks – can be difficult to do. So start by diligently copying all the information about the source before you leverage any of the content.

Next, decide whether you want to use the content as is – which requires citing your sources – or if you want to paraphrase the content.

How to paraphrase content

Paraphrasing requires that you stay true to the intent of the ideas in the original content but that you use your own words to describe those ideas, concepts or thoughts. Changing a few words, or moving sentences around isn’t paraphrasing – it’s plagiarism. Changing the intent of what the author wrote isn’t paraphrasing, it’s just inaccurate.

Remember: Paraphrasing does not remove the requirement to cite your sources at the end of your paper.

Avoid plagiarizing

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is by being honest and giving credit where credit is due. If you didn’t come up with the idea, write the quote, take the picture, draw the image or create the graphic, don’t pretend that you did.

  • Always cite your sources to give the author credit for their work or ideas
  • Whenever you include a direct quote, you must place it in quotation marks and give the author credit. Even when you cite the source, if you fail to put direct quotes in quotation marks you are plagiarizing because it looks like you’re paraphrasing the source in your own words rather than indicating the words are from a quote.
  • When paraphrasing, give credit at the point where you paraphrase and again at the end of the paper or essay in your bibliography.
  • In research papers, cite your sources in parenthetical remarks, footnotes, or endnotes. Give credit at the end of a research paper in the bibliography
  • For photos, images, charts, diagrams, etc. give credit underneath the content to whomever owns the rights to those works, or to the photographer, illustrator, or whomever created the content.

We live in an age where virtually all learning, thoughts and ideas are built upon the work of others in some way. By citing your sources you show respect for the content creator and their work, and your own original content will be stronger as a result.

Additional resources:


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