5 Tips to Make Sure You Avoid Plagiarism

by Amanda Clark

Plagiarism: It’s a scary word, and you probably know someone who has gotten into big trouble for it. But with so many writing assignments to do, and so many free resources available, it can be easy to plagiarize accidentally. In fact, there are many “gray areas” of plagiarism that you might not even know about.  

In order to avoid a very uncomfortable trip to the principal’s office, here are five tips to help make sure you avoid plagiarism.

  1. Use a variety of sources

When compiling your research, it’s important to use numerous sources. This prevents you from using ideas from just one site or book. Even though you may think you’re putting the content into your own words, you still may be using the formatting and overall structure of that one author. By using multiple sources, you’ll not only have a more well-rounded paper, but you’ll also avoid accidentally passing off one author’s work for your own.


  1. Base your work on your own ideas

This one sounds like common sense, but it’s critical. If you’re composing your essay based on your own thoughts and ideas, then you’re probably in the clear of plagiarism.

Try writing out a short draft of your paper using no outside sources. This ensures that you’re thinking through the topic on your own, rather than relying on already-published ideas. This is certainly easier for assignments like short stories, poetry, editorials, etc. than research papers, but the thesis in a research paper should be original too. Make sure that your arguments are backed by cited, credible sources, and that your paper offers a new spin on a topic rather than just recapping old information.


  1. Cite your sources!

Accurately citing your sources is one of the best safeguards against plagiarism. Remember that you don’t just have to cite when using quotes. You also have to cite ideas that aren’t yours. Many students fail to mention sources because they feel that they put the author’s ideas into their own words, but this is still a form of plagiarism. I tell my students: when in doubt, provide a citation. EasyBib has an easy-to-use works cited generator that helps you create citations, whether your teacher has asked for MLA style, APA style, or Chicago style.


  1. Stay organized and keep track of your sources

A common mistake that students make is spending hours researching and taking beautiful notes, only to lose track of where the information came from. Help yourself out from the beginning: keep track of your sources as you’re taking notes. Try keeping an organized T-Chart of all of your sources in one column and your information/notes in the other column. This will prevent you from accidentally forgetting a citation.

  1. Run your paper through a plagiarism checker

Even when you don’t set out to plagiarize, you can forget a citation, fail to adequately rephrase a source text, or accidentally follow the structure of a site you’ve used. Use an online grammar and plagiarism checker to make sure you didn’t accidentally lift something from your research or forget to cite. It only takes a few minutes, and it gives you that extra peace of mind when you turn in your paper.  

So the next time you sit down to write that stellar paper on the Roman Empire, make sure to use  these handy tips to help you pass any plagiarism checker with ease.

For more tips on writing a plagiarism-free paper, check out these resources on how to do a works cited page and how to cite a website.

What Exactly is Plagiarism?

Perhaps your school librarian or teacher assigned a research project and warned you not to plagiarize. Or, maybe you’ve seen the word appear on a news report that accused a famous person of plagiarizing a song or book. Plagiarism is a word that has some pretty scary consequences, but don’t worry. We’re here to show you the ropes so you know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, so let’s get started:

What Exactly is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of taking information from a source and placing it in your own project without properly sharing where you found the information. If you add information from a book, website, newspaper, or another resource into your project, you can! You just need to provide credit to the original author.

Think of it this way, if your friend let you borrow a cool hat and someone stopped you to ask about it, you’d mention that it’s your friend’s hat, right? You’d maybe even share where they bought it (if you happened to know). You wouldn’t tell the person it’s yours and you bought it on your own. This is kind of similar to research projects.

The difference between the hat scenario and research projects though is that in research projects, you’re required to share that you borrowed information and also share where you borrowed it from. You share who the original author is, where you found it, and some other pieces of information. If you don’t show the reader that you’re including another individual’s words or images in your paper, and you’re trying to pass it off as your own, you’re plagiarizing! There are other ways to plagiarize too. Read the next section to learn more.

What counts as plagiarism?

Plagiarism includes all of the following:

    • Using someone else’s work in your assignment and passing it off as your own
    • Changing the words of a quote
    • Using a quote from a source and not putting quotation marks around it
    • Taking a line of text from a source and substituting many of the words for synonyms. For Changing the book title The Cat in the Hat to The Feline in the Cap is plagiarism! They’re essentially the same book title!
    • Including incorrect information about the original source, such as changing the name of the author or including an incorrect URL
    • Submitting a paper that was entirely written by someone else
    • Submitting your work from a previously taken class or assignment and using it again for a different class or project. This is called self plagiarism.

What can I do if I don’t want to plagiarize?

      Plagiarism is happily avoidable! One of the easiest things you can do to not plagiarize is to create citations for all the sources (i.e. books, journal articles, videos, etc.) of information you used to write your paper. That means creating a bibliography. You also need to cite quotes or paraphrases using in-text citations. For example,
MLA format
      uses parenthetical citations after a quote to indicate where it came from.


      If you need help creating citations, BibMe has tools that can help you create
APA citations
      , MLA citations, or citations in several other styles. If you need writing help, try our
grammar check
    on BibMe Plus.