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How do I avoid plagiarism?

Learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

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What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is "the action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft." (Source: Oxford English Dictionary).

There are two main types of plagiarism:

  1. Intentional plagiarism - when a person deliberately passes the works of others as their own.  For example,
    • Copying a text and then pasting it onto your paper
    • Copying a text and then changing some words but maintaining the structure of the passage
    • Getting someone else to write the paper for you
    • Buying and/or downloading a paper online
    • Using the wrong citations to hide plagiarism
    • Neglecting to cite sources you have copied from
    • Creating fake citations
    • Reusing your papers or essays from other courses or schools
  2. Unintentional plagiarism - When a person plagiarizes without realizing this is what they are doing.  For example,
    • Forgetting to use quotation marks for direct quotes
    • Using quotations but forgetting to add attribution (citation)
    • Changing some words in a passage but leaving the structure and ideas intact 
    • Forgetting to have a Works Cited or References page
    • Creating an essay or paper that is just a string of quotes without any of your ideas
    • Reusing your papers or essays from other courses or schools

How do I avoid it?

Avoiding plagiarism is not difficult. Just follow these strategies:

Paraphrase (and credit your sources)

Paraphrasing means you are borrowing what someone else wrote, and re-telling it in your own words and sentence structures, while maintaining the spirit of the passage. It also demonstrates you understand the passage you are incorporating into your essay.  If you change a few words, or use synonyms, you are not paraphrasing; you are plagiarizing.  See this link to learn more about paraphrasing and to see examples.  Please remember that when you paraphrase, you still have to credit your sources! 

Cite your sources in a Works Cited or References page

Every source you mention in your essay must be listed on your Works Cited (MLA) or References (APA) page. Please refer to the library's citation playbooks to see how to cite your sources, or ask a librarian.

Cite your sources in the body of your essay

Besides putting your sources in your Works Cited/Reference list, you must also credit them within the body of your essay or paper, either within sentences or in parentheses at the end of sentences. Please see the library's citation playbooks to see how to do parenthetical or in-text citations, or see a librarian. 

If you used sources you are not citing, place them in a Works Consulted page

A Works Consulted page lets your reader/instructor know you have consulted some sources that you are not mentioning in the body of your paper. For example, encyclopedias, handbooks, or textbooks are not normally used as citable sources, but they are useful as background information for topics. If you have used those and would like people to know you have, you can place them on the Works Consulted list. If you in any way use these sources in your essay, then they become works cited and must be placed on the corresponding list. 

Do not reuse previous work

Reusing previous work does not demonstrate you have mastered the current course's material.  You may use portions of previous work the same way you use other sources, and you must cite yourself like you would with any other source. But taking an old work (modified or unmodified) and passing it off as an original, new work is a violation of academic integrity that is not tolerated in academia. 

If an instructor gives you permission to submit an essay from another course, make sure you obtain this permission in writing.

Library Mini Course: Avoiding Plagiarism

Want to learn more about how to avoid plagiarism? Take the Avoiding Plagiarism library mini-course! 



  • Even if you plagiarize unintentionally, you may still get in trouble. Some schools and/or instructors punish unintentional plagiarism, because they expect students to educate themselves about the topic prior to writing essays.
  • See pages 54-55 of the PVCC Student Handbook for PVCC's policy on academic dishonesty.
  • Common knowledge (that is, something the majority of people know or accept without having to verify or look up) does not need to be documented. This includes facts everyone knows (e.g. Japan is an island, or most dogs shed), common sayings (e.g. Ignorance is bliss), and things that are easily verified (e.g. George Washington was born in 1732).  When you are writing for specific disciplines (for example, nursing, history, psychology), there are some things that are common knowledge for those disciplines that you may not need to document. ‚Äč
  • For more information, visit the MLA's page about plagiarism, or the APA's page about the same topic.

ResearchMinute Video: Avoiding Plagiarism

Watch this video to learn how to avoid plagiarism.

Take the Plagiarism Quiz