How to Avoid Plagiarism

As a student at the University of Alberta, there is only one definition of plagiarism you need to understand, and it comes from the Code of Student Behaviour:

30.3.2(1) Plagiarism: No Student shall submit the words, ideas, images or data of another person as the Student's own in any academic writing, essay, thesis, project, assignment, presentation or poster in a course or program of study.

While it looks straight-forward, there are a number of things in this definition that are important to understand:

  • Any time you hand in something with your name on it, it is presumed to have been generated entirely by you unless you indicate otherwise.
  • Any content you use that you did not generate yourself (ideas, graphics, photographs, charts, statistics, etc.) must be cited.
  • While plagiarism in written work is certainly the most common, it is also possible to use others' words, ideas, images or data in any kind of assignment: oral presentations, blogs, paintings or graphic arts, even interpretive dance!
  • Our definition of plagiarism does not take into account whether or not the act was intentional. The onus is on the student to make sure that all borrowed work is cited. Accidentally forgetting to cite a source is still plagiarism.
  • The definition of plagiarism applies to group projects as well. If one person includes plagiarized materials in the project, the entire group has submitted the work under their own names.

Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism

Manage Your Time

Start early, give yourself plenty of time to work through your material, and write multiple drafts of your papers. Citing sources properly and double-checking your work is time-consuming; rushing through it at the last minute almost guarantees problems.

Take Careful Notes

Being scrupulous in your note-taking at the outset will simplify your process at the end. Be sure you note specifically if you are copying exact words, putting another's ideas into your own words, or jotting down your own ideas so that when you sit down to weave it all together, you know exactly how each item has to be referenced. Cut and paste with caution when using Internet sources.

Always copy the URL as well or, even better, keep a printout for future reference. Finally, make sure you cite every source you use, whether from print or electronic, radio, public speech, website or anything else you did not generate on your own. It is better to have too many citations than not enough.

Use Style Guides

Citations can be confusing and, at times, it can be difficult to know how to cite unusual sources. Most disciplines or journals use an agreed-upon citation style for consistency (e.g., APA for Psychology and Education or MLA for English). Find out which style you are expected to use for your papers and then purchase the style guide or use one from the University of Alberta Libraries. Style guides provide formatting guidelines for publication and information on how to cite even the most obscure kind of source. Information is also available on the University of Alberta Libraries' website.

Understand Paraphrasing

Many students become confused by the notion that it is possible to plagiarize another person's idea. Putting someone else's idea into your own words still requires acknowledging the original author. When you use someone's exact words, you must place quotation marks around the words, use an in-text citation and make an entry into your list of sources. When you put someone else's idea into your own words, you need an in-text citation and an entry into your list of sources, but no quotation marks. That way, the person who came up with the idea in the first place gets proper credit.

Ask Questions

Any time you are unsure of what should be cited or how to do so, ask the professor or supervisor who will be evaluating your work. Only that person knows exactly what he or she expects and can give you the right answer for that specific assignment. Be aware that "common knowledge" is not nearly as common as you might think. It is better to cite something than to assume that it is common knowledge.