How to Avoid Plagiarism

Integrity is one of the most crucial aspects of academia, business, and personal growth. Plagiarism is an alarmingly common form of intellectual dishonesty, and the consequences for purposeful or accidental plagiarism can be devastating.

What is Plagiarism? The Definition of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the deliberate or accidental misrepresentation of another individual’s work as one’s own. This can include tangible products such as images or music, but ideas or concepts are also considered to be “work” that must be credited to the person or group generating the idea. Basically, the individual committing plagiarism is using that work without crediting the original source.

Deliberate plagiarism is typically a direct copy from the source without giving credit to the deserving party. This can include copying publications verbatim, directly using information from an encyclopedia or other source, or purchasing pre-published essays or assignments.

Accidental plagiarism might seem less disastrous, but the consequences can be equally dire. The individual unintentionally neglects to properly cite a source, so the plagiarized work is not credited to the original source. This is a non-malicious act that typically results from laziness or a lack of knowledge about citations and references. However, punishment for accidental plagiarism can be severe.

Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Use quotation marks every single time another individual’s words are used. Even if it is a short string of words, those words are the property of another individual.
  • Instead of using direct quotations, paraphrase the content.
  • Lead with the author’s name. This will let readers know who created the original work.
  • Be familiar with proper citation. Each discipline has a preferred style guide, and each style guide has details and examples for citing another individual’s work and creating a reference page. Style guides can be purchased at most major bookstores.
  • Citing common knowledge is not required, but common knowledge and personal knowledge are different. If in doubt, cite it.
  • Simply changing a few words here or there is not an acceptable means of avoiding plagiarism. The main idea is still there, and that idea belongs to someone else. It must be cited.

Examples of Plagiarism

Source: The details of the car accident were not released until families were notified.
Plagiarism: The car wreck details were not released until the families were told.

The plagiarized sentence is a lazy attempt to evade plagiarism by simply changing some words, and it is not successful. Additionally, the source, which would likely be a newspaper in this example, is not cited.

Plagiarism: John Johnson was born on January 1, 1900 to an actress mother and a carpenter father.

Common knowledge is tricky. While the individual writing the paper might know everything there is to know about John Johnson, those details are personally acquired knowledge. Sources must be cited or this will constitute plagiarism.


Plagiarism cheats the individual who created the work, but it also cheats the person committing the act of plagiarism. Both accidental and deliberate plagiarism can ruin an education or even a career. Fortunately, plagiarism can be avoided by keeping those simple tips in mind and giving credit where credit is due.

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