SPS defines plagiarism as “the act of presenting another person’s ideas, research or writings as your own” (  This can be done intentionally or unintentionally, but is always a serious academic offense that could result in receiving no credit for the assignment, failing the class, or being subjected to disciplinary actions such as suspension or expulsion.

Examples of plagiarism include:

  • Turning in someone else’s paper as your own
  • Using the exact words of a source without quotation marks and/or a citation
  • Taking an image, chart, or statistic from a source without telling where it originated
  • Copying and pasting material from the internet without quotation marks and/or a citation
  • Including another person’s idea without crediting the author

Any time you use someone else’s words or ideas (and you will do this regularly in academic writing), you must give that person credit. This means you need to include quotation marks around any phrases or sentences that are taken exactly from a source and give a citation for any quotations, paraphrases, or summaries. For example, in the first sentence of this answer, the quoted definition for plagiarism is attributed to SPS, and a link to the original material is given in parentheses. Though that is a very informal type of citation, it tells the reader where and with whom the ideas and words originated, so it is clear that I did not develop them myself. There are various approaches to citation, and your teacher will generally specify which style you should use in your course or discipline.  APA and MLA are the two most common styles, though others exist.

Below are five tips for preventing plagiarism.  These suggestions can help ensure you use your sources in an appropriate way and avoid any of the negative consequences that can arise from plagiarizing.


Tip #1: Make sure you are very certain about what is and is not plagiarism!

Start by familiarizing yourself with SPS’s Academic Integrity policies.  You can also check out other sources like:

And try some tutorials:

Tip #2: Give yourself plenty of time to complete an assignment!

Running out of time on an assignment is a main cause of plagiarism.  Rushing to meet a deadline can result in carelessness (leading to unintentional plagiarism – see the next tip!) and the desire to find a quick, easy solution such as copying someone else’s work.  Don’t give in to that temptation!  Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, and the chance of being caught (which is likely) is not worth it.

Avoid this situation entirely by starting your assignment far ahead of time and planning out when you will complete each phase of the writing process.  Even if your teacher does not require you to turn in materials for each stage of the writing process (i.e. brainstorming, creating a thesis statement, outlining, drafting, revising, etc.), set your own personal deadlines for each step along the way and make sure to give yourself more than enough time to finish everything.

Tip #3: Document everything! 

Plagiarism isn’t always a conscious choice.  Sometimes it can be unintentional, typically resulting from poor documentation of one’s sources during the research phase. For example, sometimes students will write down an idea from a source using words identical to or very close to those in the original, but then when they go to write their paper forget that the material was not already in their own words.  Adopting good research habits can prevent this type of plagiarism.

Print, photocopy, or scan the relevant pages of every source you are using (including the title and copyright pages, since they have the information you need for a bibliographic citation).  When taking notes by hand (or typed into a file), list the bibliographic information for each source you use.  Make sure to put quotation marks around any wordings taken directly from the source (and note the page where you found it), and remember to put everything else into your own words right away, so there is no danger of forgetting something is a quote.  Documenting where all of your ideas, information, quotations, and so on come from is an important step in avoiding plagiarism.

Tip #4: Don’t include too much material taken from other sources!

Writing assignments are about your ideas, your interpretations, and your ability to synthesize information.  You should use relevant sources to support your ideas using evidence such as quotes, paraphrases, and summaries, as well as statistics and other data.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that your argument is central! Including too much material from other sources can result in a paper that feels like it has been pasted together from a variety of authors, rather than a cohesive essay.  Such papers also run a much higher risk of setting off plagiarism warnings in SafeAssign or other plagiarism-detecting software.  Try to find a balance: use enough evidence from credible sources to prove your points but don’t let the ideas of others take the place of your own thoughts.

Tip #5: When in doubt, give a citation!

There are certain types of information – typically referred to as common knowledge – that don’t require a citation when you include them in your writing.  These are facts that are widely known and can be easily found in a number of sources.  They are not ideas that originated with one particular source.  Examples include scientific facts (for example, that solid, liquid, and gas are three states of matter), general historical information (for example, that George Washington was the first US president), or even information commonly known to certain groups of people but not others (for example, most musicians know that a C major triad includes the notes C, E, and G, even though many non-musicians would have no idea what a C major triad is).

For everything else, you need to include a citation, regardless of whether you are quoting directly from the source, paraphrasing it, or giving a summary.  If you are at all unsure whether something qualifies as common knowledge or not, give a citation.  You can also consult a more experienced figure in your field, such as your instructor, to find out if something counts as common knowledge or not.

If you need to brush up on your citation skills, or are just in need of a quick reference, see The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) for some excellent guides to using APA, MLA or Chicago style of documentation. Another easy to use resource is available from the SUNY Albany library Citation Fox, available for both APA and MLA styles.

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