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Citing Sources: Avoiding Plagiarism

Keeping it Honest

Each student entering Southwestern pledges to support the Honor System. According to the Student Handbook, "The purpose of the Honor System of Southwestern University is to stimulate and promote the ideals of honesty and integrity among students and to eliminate the practice of cheating by putting into practice these ideals of honesty and integrity." Sometimes it is difficult to understand what is and what isn't academically honest, especially when writing papers. This page is intended to clarify what plagiarism and academic dishonesty are and offer some suggestions on avoiding them in your work.

Print Sources for Avoiding Plagiarism

Below is a list of titles for some of the books on plagiarism and writing manuals with plagiarism and citation advice that are available in our library. Other manuals that address specific disciplines of study are also available. Some of these manuals are available for check out, but in some cases the most recent editions will be in the reference collection and will not circulate.


Buranen, Lise, and Alice M. Roy, editors. Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Postmodern World
(808 P432)

Decoo, Wilfried. Crisis on Campus: Confronting Academic Misconduct
(378.1958 D358c)

Harris, Robert. The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting, and Dealing with Plagiarism. Companion Web site at
(808 H243p)

LaFollette, Marcel. Stealing Into Print: Fraud, Plagiarism, and Misconduct in Scientific Publishing
(179.9 L133s)

Mawdsley, Ralph D. Legal Aspects of Plagiarism
(346.0482 M449l)

Mallon, Thomas. Stolen Words: Forays Into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism
(808 M297s)

Writing Manuals

Axelrod, Rise B., and Charles R. Cooper. The St. Martin's Guide to Writing
(808.042 Ax22s)

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed.
(Reference 808.027 G35mh 2003)

Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook
(Reference 808.042 H115b 2002)

Heffernan, James A.W., John E. Lincoln, and Janet Atwill. Writing, a college handbook 5th ed.
(808.042 H361w 2001)

Shields, Nancy. Where Credit Is Due: A Guide to Proper Citing of Sources -- Print and Nonprint. 2nd edition.
(Reference 808.027 Sh61w)

Slade, Carol. Form and Style: Research Paper, Reports, Theses. 11th edition.
(Reference 808.02 Sl12f 1999)

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 6th edition.
(Reference 808.02 T74m 1996)

Walker, Melissa Writing Research Papers: A Norton Guide. 4th edition.
(Reference 808.02 W153w 1997)

Xia Li. Electronic Styles: A Guide to Citing Electronic Information.
(Reference 808.027 W15s 1998)

Online Sources for Avoiding Plagiarism

There are many resources available online for learning about copyright and plagiarism. Some sites are targeted more at instructors, while others have writing advice for students to help them avoid plagiarism. There are also several online plagiarism detection services, many of which allow limited free use of the service.

Carbone, Nick. Bedford Workshops on Teaching Writing Online: Plagiarism
Part of the online workshop, "Strategies for Teaching with Online Tools," this page includes advice for instructors on ways to introduce students to the concept of plagiarism and ways to design assignments that lessen the chance that students will intentionally plagiarize.

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). Avoiding Plagiarism.
A good primer on plagiarism for students from one of the most respected online writing labs in the country, with exercises to help them decide if they are at risk of plagiarizing.

Stoerger, Sharon. Plagiarism.
An annotated webliography of news articles and resources about plagiarism for both instructors and students, adapted from work done at the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Trivedi, Lisa, and Sharon Williams, Hamilton College. Avoiding Plagiarism
A basic introduction to the topic of plagiarism for students, including good examples of paraphrasing and integrating source material.

Young, Kay, University of Wisconsin at Platteville Karrmann Library. Plagiarism Prevention
An overview of copyright and plagiarism, mostly directed at instructors.


Harper, Georgia. UT System Copyright Crash Course
A set of resources and a tutorial on copyright from the UT Systems Legal Counsel, primarily addressed towards faculty and instructors.

Stanford University Libraries. Copyright & Fair Use
A set of resources on copyright and fair use from the Stanford University Libraries.

Templeton, Brad. Brief Introduction to Copyright
An introduction to copyright for everyday users from the chairman of the Board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Templeton, Brad. Ten Big Myths About Copyright Explained
A list of ten (actually eleven) of the most common misunderstandings regarding copyright in the electronic age.

Southwestern University Honor Code

From the Southwestern University Student Handbook:

"Plagiarism is the submission of another's work as one's own without acknowledgment in the written work.

There are basically four ways in which research papers use or incorporate written materials, and each of these requires footnoting.

1. Direct quotations should be marked off with quotation marks, with a footnote to indicate the source.

It is not necessary to place in quotation marks every word in your paper that appears in a source you are using. If your paper concerns Napoleon, for example, you need not place "Napoleon" in quotation marks merely because your sources use the name. Similarly, there are phrases of some length such as "on the other hand" or "it is evident that" which are common property and act in effect as single words.

2. Paraphrase. Where your own language follows closely the language of a written source, or where your line of argument follows a source, you need not use quotation marks, but you are obliged to indicate the source in a footnote.

3. General indebtedness. Where the ideas in your paper closely resemble and were suggested by the ideas in a source, a footnote should be used to indicate this.

4. Background information. In any area of inquiry there are matters of fact commonly known to everyone with a serious interest. Such information need not be footnoted one fact at a time. Instead, a general footnote toward the beginning of the paper, naming the sources where such general information was obtained, is sufficient."

There are many other types of academic dishonesty, including, but not limited to, cheating on tests, providing answers to test or homework questions to another student, stating false attendance at a required event, falsifying academic records, submitting work done in one class for credit in another class, and claiming work done by others as your own.

Acts of suspected academic dishonesty are referred to the Student Judiciary and the Dean of Students for review. The consequences for academic dishonesty are severe, ranging from loss of credit for an assignment to failure in a course. Repeated acts of academic dishonesty may result in both academic and non-academic penalties, including expulsion from the University. It is far better to avoid academic dishonesty and plagiarism in all your work.

Types of Plagiarism

There are two main types of plagiarism: intentional and unintentional. The majority of student plagiarism is probably unintentional. The examples below show how plagiarism may be intentional or unintentional and offer some tips on how to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Plagiarism Example


(Possibly) Unintentional

Using someone else's exact words without quotation marks

Trying to impress your audience by using an eloquent phrase and letting them think that you wrote it.

Copying and pasting from a source and forgetting to add in quotation marks.


Tip: Don't ever copy and paste directly from an online source into your main document. Copy into a document labeled "Notes" instead, so that if you get busy or distracted you won't forget that you copied the material. Use special colors to indicate copied text, or put a "Q" in front of the text to indicate that the material is a quote. Always indicate the source of the material, too, so that you can go back and find it later when you're doing your citations.


Paraphrasing a source too closely

Worrying about using too many direct quotes and so deciding to change just a few words in the original and pretend like it's your own phrasing.

Paraphrasing the original quote word by word, without changing the phrasing.

Tip: Paraphrasing is difficult and requires practice. You may have to rewrite the quotation many times before you get a version that is substantially different from the original. Successful paraphrases often use fewer words than the original, and they use phrasing and language that is natural to you. Try writing a paraphrase without looking at the original to let your own voice come through, but always compare your version to the original to make sure you've changed it enough. Also, mix quotations and paraphrase -- leave striking phrases as they are in the original, with quotation marks around them, and paraphrase the rest of the material: "In keeping with the idea of 'democratic dictatorship,' the government allowed only limited elections during this period, and the results were known to everyone in advance" (Simmons, 1983, 24).


Paraphrasing a source without providing a citation

Trying to present an idea written by someone else as your own.

Thinking that you don't need to cite a source because you changed their words.

Tip: All ideas that you've found in your research should be cited in your paper, whether you quote them directly, indirectly (by paraphrasing them), or just use them as background knowledge. A good strategy is to introduce the original author before you mention the idea: "In 1915, according to Alexander Thomas, the American sense of equality and fair play led to a general reconsideration of the idea of votes for women."


Not crediting significant indirect influences on your work

Not citing a textbook used in another class because you want your instructor to think that you've thought of these issues for yourself.

Forgetting to cite a book you read last year although the author's ideas are important to your argument.

Tip: Always be honest with yourself and your instructor. If you have any question about whether or not your work is derivative, that is, based on someone else's ideas, ask your instructor or a librarian for guidance. If you realize after you've submitted a paper that you left out some sources, contact your instructor to let them know what happened. You're here to learn, so don't be afraid to ask for advice!


Plagiarizing an entire paper

Buying a paper from a paper mill, or turning in a paper written by someone else.

Turning in a paper you wrote for a different class because the topics were very similar.

Tip: If you ask your instructor for permission in advance, you may be allowed to reuse parts of your own work without worrying about being academic dishonest.

Copyright and Plagiarism

Under the most recent revisions to U.S. Copyright Law, as soon as a work is created and put into tangible form, including electronic form, it is copyrighted and that copyright is the property of the author of the work, whether or not the work has been published in any way. There is a common belief that works "freely available" on the Internet aren't copyrighted and that copying them isn't plagiarism. This isn't true! You may want to read Brad Templeton's Ten Big Myths About Copyright Explained for more explanation.

Academic traditions emphasize the importance of fair use, which in the U.S. Copyright Law means that individuals should be allowed to use portions of copyrighted works for the purposes of study, commentary, or criticism, without fear of prosecution. Even so, fair use still requires that all works used be attributed to their original authors. For more information about copyright and fair use, you may want to visit the UT System Crash Course in Copyright by Georgia Harper.

Plagiarism Detection Services and Tools

CopyCatch is a software program that uses forensic textual analysis to determine possible plagiarism; it does not rely on external databases of student papers. CFL Software Development also offers a CopyChecker program for students designed to help teach better ways to use source material. Free to educational institutions in the UK.

EVE2: Essay Verification Engine (no longer available)
Unlike and, EVE2 matches student papers against Internet sources only, eliminating most intellectual property concerns. Currently, the software costs $19.95 per license with no recurring fees.

Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program
This program uses stylistic analysis and tests students to determine whether or not they have plagiarized. The site also offers a self-detection service that may help students determine whether or not they have used sources correctly.

The best-known of the Internet search engines, Google can be used as a rudimentary plagiarism detection service by entering phrases from students' papers to search for matches in its index. This technique works best with phrases of four or more words or shorter phrases with unusual word combinations; phrases should be enclosed in quotation marks. Other search engines offer similar facilities.
By the developers of, this site offers a brief overview of the rise of online plagiarism and a review of technologies available for plagiarism detection. offers subscription-based plagiarism-detection services to faculty and staff using software originally developed at the University of California, Berkeley. Note that there are intellectual property issues associated with's practice of adding papers submitted for testing to its database; see Andrea L. Foster's "Plagiarism-Detection Tool Creates Legal Quandary" in the May 17, 2002 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Danielle Cunniff Plumer, August 2004