Avoiding Plagiarism

When writing a paper, particularly a research paper where you engage with the scholarly literature that has already been published, it is important to recognize the work others have done. By acknowledging the work of others, you show them respect and build your own credibility by demonstrating that you are aware of what others have written on your topic. In essence, a research paper is an act of entering the conversation, which includes acknowledging what others have said and providing your own contributions. To explain where the information from other sources comes from, cite the source according to the appropriate style guide (e.g., MLA, APA, Chicago, CSE).

Why cite your sources?

  • To give your writing credibility. You show that you have gathered ideas from worthwhile places.
  • To help the reader. You enable the reader to go and check and read those sources if they so wish.
  • To protect yourself from plagiarism. When you cite all your sources, no one can claim that your work was stolen or copied from someone else.

What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the presentation of the work of another person as one’s own or without proper acknowledgment. While many people might think this means outright cheating by stealing or copying another student’s work, it could just as easily refer to copying of anyone else’s ideas without saying where they came from.

What counts as “other people’s ideas”?

  • All words quoted directly from another source.
  • All ideas paraphrased from a source.
  • All ideas borrowed from another source: statistics, graphs, charts.
  • All ideas or materials taken from the Internet.

What doesn’t count?

  • You do not have to cite sources for knowledge that is generally known, like the dates of famous events in history or the names of past Prime ministers. Similarly, phrases like “the generation gap” indicate concepts generally understood by the public.
  • Also, within your field, there may be terms which are “common knowledge” because they are part of the knowledge shared by people in that field, like the “language experience approach” for educators, or the term “Impressionism” for visual art scholars.

Knowing what to cite /not to cite is also affected by culture. In North America, readers expect to be told where ideas come from. In other cultures, there may be more shared and collective understanding of certain ideas or even of memorized texts. Most scholarly work is expected to include references to the work of others. At SUA, all work, ideas, or language from someone else must be acknowledged.

Direct quotations
When you are using someone else’s exact words, you need to place quotations marks (“…”) around the words to show this. It is imperative not to rephrase or reorganize these words; otherwise you would be misrepresenting that author. If you omit part of the author’s sentence you can use three ellipsis points (…) to show that words have been omitted. Note that a space should follow each period in an ellipsis. Directly after the quotation, you should indicate where the information comes from, using a relevant documentation style to document your sources. (For more specifics, refer to your handbook or handouts on MLA/APA documentation.)

Many students are unclear about what it means to paraphrase. It is not acceptable to take the original phrasing and just rearrange a few of the original words to produce a paraphrase; neither is it acceptable to use the same sentence structure but just rephrase a few key words. These are examples of patchwriting, a type of plagiarism. See the following examples for acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing.


Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotation in the final research paper. Less than 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. (Lester, 1976, 46–47)

Acceptable paraphrase:
In research papers, students often quote excessively, failing to keep quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the material recorded verbatim (Lester, 1976).

A plagiarized version:
Students often use too many direct quotations when they take notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of source material copied while taking notes (Lester, 1976)

When you paraphrase, make sure to understand what the original is saying, then close the book and write the passage in your own words. Also, note that you need to cite a source for a paraphrase even though you did not quote from the source directly. In the examples above, the source, Lester, is given after the paraphrase. When you are paraphrasing rather than using exact words, mentioning the page number in the source parentheses is optional, but check with your professor as some may prefer you to include it.


Lester, J. D., Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed. (1976) 46-47.