Avoiding Plagiarism

If you have questions about paraphrasing, quoting, and citing sources, bring them to our writing consultants, who can help you better integrate sources into your writing. We work with faculty, Tisch librarians, and the Dean of Students office to help prevent plagiarism. We also offer workshops and additional materials to help our academic community avoid and prevent plagiarism.

You probably realize that submitting work that is not your own or intentionally copying passages from published sources without attributing them to the author is considered plagiarism. However, in many cases, plagiarism is accidental or unintentional and happens when a writer lifts a passage from a source without putting quotation marks around it or attempts to paraphrase but only changes a few words. This is sometimes called “patchwork writing.”

From a disciplinary perspective, patchwork writing or forgetting to cite sources is still considered plagiarism, even if you did not intend to plagiarize.

What are the most common causes of plagiarism?

  • Poor time management: When students wait until the last minute to write a paper and panic when they realize they cannot finish it in time, they often start cutting corners and put themselves at risk for plagiarizing. It's better to ask for an extension, take an incomplete, or accept a lower grade than face the consequences of plagiarism.
  • Not knowing how to paraphrase properly: It is not enough to change a few words from the original. Your paraphrase must be different from the original in sentence structure and written in your own voice. And you must include an in-text citation to attribute the idea to the original author, even after you restate the idea in your own words.
  • Poor note-taking during research: It is very easy to mistake a handwritten transcription or a copy-and-pasted segment of someone else's writing as your own if you haven’t recorded where it came from.

How can you avoid unintentional plagiarism?

  1. Plan out your research and writing process. Give yourself enough time to research the topic thoroughly, write drafts of the paper, and re-read the final draft before turning it in.
  2. Improve your research methods.
    • Keep track of all citation information for the sources you consult, including websites, non-circulating reference books, and other materials, even if you’re not sure you will use them later.
    • Include citations as you take notes, so you know where the information came from when you use it later.
    • Take good notes. Make sure you are able to summarize the main point of a source in your own words and that you take notes on how the important points relate to your own argument.
    • Avoid “reading around” on the internet to get ideas, as this often leads to accidentally lifting of someone else’s ideas. Read carefully and make a note of where the ideas come from.
  1. Distinguish your words from your source’s words.
    • Cite as you write! Do not wait to go back later and add citations -- you might forget where the ideas came from.
    • When paraphrasing from a source, put the source out of sight and try to write how you would say it. Then compare what you wrote to the original to make sure the sentence structure and phrasing do not mimic the original. Don’t forget to attribute the idea to the original author with an in-text citation!
    • Remember that you need to include both in-text citations in the body of the paper and a bibliography or works cited page at the end. Include these even if it’s a draft, and even if you weren’t asked to include them.
  1. Quiz yourself: How much do you know about plagiarism? This self-test, developed by Dean Carmen Lowe, can help you learn more about the intricacies of plagiarism and common knowledge. Score your answers after you take the quiz.
  2. Make an appointment with a writing consultant to discuss how to best integrate sources into your paper. If you have questions about citation styles or how to cite an unusual source, ask a librarian or drop into The Research Hub in Tisch Library.