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Preventing Plagiarism

What constitutes plagiarism?

Some actions are obviously plagiarism, such as buying a paper, hiring someone to write your paper or copying a large portion of a text without acknowledgement. Intentional plagiarism is a violation of professional ethics. However, most people plagiarize unintentionally, through ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism. However, unintentional plagiarism is still a violation of professional ethics, even if it is done inadvertently.

Below are three key areas on which people may plagiarise:


Original ideas of others:

You plagiarise if you use the original ideas of others AND

  • Claim someone else's work as your own; or
  • Fail to cite the source; or
  • Give incorrect information about the source
  • EXCEPTION: Obvious ideas & common knowledge do not have to be cited [more on common knowledge]

Direct quotes:

You plagiarise if you are directly quoting someone else's words AND

  • Fail to put the quotation in quotation marks, whether you cite the source or not


You plagiarise if you paraphrase (i.e. rephrase) someone else's ideas AND

  • Copy too many words or phrases from the source instead of using your own words, whether you cite the source or not 

Forms of plagiarism

Here are the most common forms of plagiarism:

  • Buying a term paper written by someone else and submit it as your own
  • Copying part of, or an entire, term paper written by someone else
  • Copying sentences or passages from the Web, or copying sentences or paragraphs from a book or an article, without citing the source
  • Paraphrasing (i.e. rephrasing people's ideas) using your own words without acknowledging the source
    • Ideas borrowed from others must be cited, even though you use your own words to express the idea 
  • Paraphrasing and acknowledging the source, but copying whole phrases and changing a few words
    • "Close paraphrasing" is plagiarism, whether you cite the source or not. You need to rewrite the original phrase using your own words and style, and cite the source
  • Copying something word for word (i.e. a quotation) from a source without using quotation marks
    • Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks is plagiarism, whether you cite the source or not. Use indentation for long quotation
  • Citing the research papers (primary sources) that you have not read, although you have read the literature review (secondary source)
    • This is "secondary source plagiarism". Only cite the source you have actually read, in this case, the literature review. Or obtain the primary sources, present your own interpretation and cite these sources
  • Reusing your previously submitted or published work in a new paper without acknowledging the source, or resubmitting the same paper
    • This is "self-plagiarism". When reusing research results of your previously published work, cite the publication

Reference: Harris, Robert A. (2001). The plagiarism handbook. Los Angeles: Pyczark Publishing.

Common knowledge

Common knowledge is something that most people already know. There is no clear boundary on what is regarded as common knowledge. Below are some examples:

Commonly reported facts - facts that are generally known by a vast population and can be found in numerous places:

  • "Obama won 2009 Nobel Peace Prize" is a fact and the source does not need to be cited. However, "The Nobel Peace Prize recognizes Obama's imaginative & energetic diplomacy" (1) is an intepretation (idea that interprets the fact) and should be cited

Easily observable information

  • e.g. "Research is a process" , "Smoking is hazardous to health"

When in doubt, cite!

(1) Borger, J. (2009, Oct. 9). More no-Bush than Nobel. Retrieved from