Avoiding Plagiarism

  1. Academic Integrity
    1. What is Plagiarism?
    2. Examples of Plagiarism
    3. Keys to Avoiding Plagiarism
  2. The Proper Use of Sources
    1. Summarizing and Paraphrasing
    2. Using Quotations
      1. Changing Quotations
    3. Documenting Sources

Academic Integrity: Expectations for Independent and Original Work

Any work you submit must be your own independent and original work. An essay is shaped by your ideas about the data, literary work, or body of existing research. You have your own unique perspective on your topic. Rather than rely on the arguments presented in existing literature or sold by an online essay mill, take the time to ask your own questions and to develop your own thesis.

It is also important to be cautious about collaboration with your fellow students. There is no harm in talking about your topic, but you and your friend do not want to present two papers with the same thesis. Academia is built on analytical dialogue, shared questions, and thoughtful debate, so discussing your work with your classmates can help you to better understand and apply course content. However, it is important to know when and how you can collaborate: unless it is expressly authorized, collaboration on any work for credit is cheating. Calculations must be done independently and written up in such a way that you can explain each and every step in the process. Results and conclusions from a group lab experiment must be independently developed and written by each group member.

All the work you submit for credit must reflect your own critical thinking about your topic; it must be your own individual and original work. You cannot buy, trade, steal, or borrow a paper that you submit as your own work. Furthermore, selling, trading, or lending your work for another student to submit is also considered to be cheating.Finally, you cannot submit the same paper, your own work, to more than one course for credit. Each course and each assignment require you to complete independent and original, new work.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is knowingly presenting the work of another person in a way that represents or could be reasonably seen to represent the work as one’s own. Knowingly includes if you should reasonably have known. That standard recognizes the responsibility of students to educate themselves about plagiarism as well as the university’s responsibility to educate students. Every educational institution will have its own academic integrity policy; this definition is derived from the Trent University Undergraduate Academic Integrity Policy.

Common Examples of Plagiarism

  • Failing to give a citation for a quotation, an idea, data, or a summary/paraphrase
  • Cutting and pasting from the Internet without enclosing pasted words in quotation marks and providing a proper citation
  • Improper paraphrase: copying a passage and only changing a few of its words or copying the sentence structure of a source, even if a proper citation is given
  • Handing in an essay or lab report that was written by someone else or an essay or lab report you handed in for another course (applies to an entire work or parts)

The Keys to Avoiding Plagiarism

  1. Developing a clear thesis early on in the essay-writing process or having a clear research purpose/question
  2. Developing a brief outline for your essay or brief outlines of lab sections before you do the bulk of your research or begin writing a draft
  3. Taking notes properly (in point form and not cutting and pasting)
  4. Learning how to properly summarize/ paraphrase using your notes
  5. Documenting all your sources properly

In other words, using good writing techniques will ensure that you do not plagiarize.

The Proper Use of Sources

Work to avoid plagiarism with good notetaking, thoughtful writing, and complete citation of sources.

  1. Research and Reading: Skim a source first and decide what information you will need from it and where it will go in your outline and ultimately in your paper. Decide what ideas, examples, or data you wish to include in your paper, and take clear notes in your own words, making note of page references so you can check the original later, if necessary. Any text you wish to quote must be written exactly as you found it; be sure to include quotation marks so you aren't confused later.
    1. Taking Research Notes
    2. Reading Critically
  2. Writing and Citing:  Use your point form notes to write sentences; as you write check to be sure you have summarized or paraphrased correctly and that all direct quotations are properly punctuated with quotation marks. In the body of the paper, include a citation for all summarized, paraphrased or quoted material.At the end of the paper, include a list of references or a bibliography.
    1. Summarizing and Paraphrasing
    2. Using Quotations and Changing Quotations
    3. Integrating Evidence
    4. Documenting Sources

Summarizing and Paraphrasing

Summarize when your reader needs to know only the main points of your source, not the supporting details and evidence or how the points are made. Paraphrase passages or sections of a source when your paper requires detailed information or ideas from that one section.


Summary: Thinking it Through argues that a clear focus is necessary for good essay-writing; it drives the research, organizing, and drafting of a clear, cohesive, well-argued paper.

Paraphrase: The authors of Thinking it Through suggest that focused questions are necessary for research; when you follow the direction of analytical questions, you are more likely to collect relevant evidence and consider the relationship of the evidence to the purpose of your paper.

It is important to attribute information in a summary or paraphrase when you write. Attribution is the proper acknowledgement of sources and actions within the main body of an essay. Your reader will want to know both where an idea or opinion came from (who wrote about it) and who the source of an action was (who did it).

Many students find it difficult to paraphrase correctly. Stealing syntax (sentence structure) is as significant an offence as stealing an idea because, as you know from your own writing experience, trying to phrase a point exactly is a difficult art. It is not acceptable to change most of the words, or every fifth word, or every third word from an original passage while following its exact sentence structure; this form of plagiarism is evident to instructors when they detect a shift in voice while reading a student paper. It is important to completely absorb or digest a concept and record it (as well as perhaps recording your response to it, where applicable) so that when you do write your draft, you will be less likely to borrow either the exact words or sentence structure of the original. That is why notetaking is so vital to essay-writing.

Read more to learn how to effectively summarize or paraphrase. 


Use quotations to support your argument when they are appropriate; often, instructors prefer you to paraphrase ideas rather than to rely on direct quotation. If you do quote, it is important to be accurate, and you must be sure to always place quotation marks around the quoted words. All direct quotations must be followed by a clear reference.

Avoiding Plagiarism When Quoting

  1. Be sure to consider the context of the quotation; choosing only to quote a sentence fragment may distort the meaning of the passage quoted. Be true to the author’s intent; any other approach is dishonest.
  2. Always indicate a quotation by using quotation marks around the borrowed passage. This indicates the words are not your own.  If you are quoting a longer passage, you will generally use a block quotation format rather than quotation marks. Check the formatting guidelines for the style that you are using on our online Documentation Guide for information about longer quotations. 
  3. Ensure that the passage that you quote corresponds exactly with the wording, spelling, and punctuation of the original; any changes that you make to the quotation must be signaled by using ellipsis dots or square brackets (see the section on altering quotations below for more on this).
  4. Always follow a direct quotation with a parenthetical reference, footnote, or superscript number to show its source. Most documentation styles (including APA)  require that you include a page number in a reference to a direct quotation.

Making Changes to Quotations

At times you may want to shorten a quotation by removing words from it or change part of a quotation to clarify it or to make it fit into your sentence grammatically. Ellipses and square brackets allow you to make these changes.


Use ellipses dots wherever you take words out of the middle of a quotation. If you omit words within the same sentences use three ellipses dots and put spaces between each.

For example: “Previous fossil discoveries there…include trilobites of middle Cambrian age” (Smith, 2010, p.12).

If you omit words that occur between two different sentences, use four ellipses dots. The fourth dot stands in for the period you have removed.

For example: Bedford was well known and appreciated for his ability to engage his audiences. . . . Michael Sindell’s review of The School For Wives describes the energy and flair of Bedford’s work” (Mankad, 2010, p.18).

You do not need to use ellipses to remove words at the beginning or end of a quotation.

Square Brackets

Use square brackets if you wish to insert a word or explanation into a direct quotation.

For example: “The task [of the commission] is to investigate the alleged illegal activities of the RCMP” (Jones, 2009, p.301).

Use square brackets to make a change to a quotation that allows it to fit into your sentence grammatically. This could be changing the tense of a verb or changing the first letter of a quotation to lower case.

For example: She stresses that "[i]n modern Western culture, much emphasis is placed on body image” (Walcott, 2011, p.12).

Documenting Sources

When to Cite and What to Cite

No matter what your essay topic, you are not necessarily expected to uncover previously unknown information about it, but instead to contemplate knowledge already available and write about it in a way that gives it new meaning.

Because essays do synthesize knowledge and viewpoints of others, documentation, acknowledging the source of information obtained, performs an important function in essay writing. The need to avoid plagiarism is only one of several reasons for documenting the sources of your evidence and ideas. The others are the desire to establish the reliability of the evidence you present and to provide the interested reader with the references needed to read more on the subject.

Most geographers, for example, know that water temperature differs among the five Great Lakes, but only a few might be familiar with the causes of these differences. If facts about the causes were included in an essay, other geographers would want to know who determined these causes in order to judge the reliability of the information provided and to inspect the research for themselves. Furthermore, particular sources must be given credit for concepts and opinions.

When in doubt, provide a reference: you will never be penalized for providing too many (although you might be advised to avoid over-citing in future papers).

The Rules of Referencing Sources

In order to avoid plagiarism, you must reference your sources both within your paper (as you write about it) as well as at the end of your paper. Here are three easy rules to keep in mind about referencing sources.

  1. Cite the source of information you use as you write about it. Anytime that you use someone else's words, ideas, or arguments (that you have paraphrased); data that is not your own; or factual information that is not general knowledge, you must cite a source within your paper. In some referencing styles, such as APA and MLA, you will use in-text, parenthetical citations to reference your source (Capell, 2009). In other styles, such as Chicago and many science styles, you will insert numbers that correspond to a footnote or a list that contains information about the source.                                                       
  2. When you do use someone’s words, you need to not only cite your source but also to put the words in "quotation marks." These quotation marks are crucial as they are the reader's primary indication that you are using words that are not your own.  Remember that when you use someone's words in quotation marks, you must use their exact words. There is no “in between”; you either quote exactly with quotation marks, or you paraphrase/summarize, using your own words as much as possible.
  3. At the end of your paper, you must have a list of all of the sources that you cited in the paper.  Different referencing styles have different names for this list. MLA calls this list "Works Cited", APA, "References", and Chicago, "Bibliography."

Learn the  referencing/citing/documentation style of your discipline. Most departments or professors will identify the style they prefer on their syllabus.