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How to Avoid Plagiarism: Citing Your Sources

Plagiarism is a serious offense that can result in expulsion for students or a cause for you to lose your job. It is rather damaging to your integrity--something that is quite difficult to earn back. Nevertheless, accidental plagiarism sometimes occurs where there is no real intention to use somebody else's work and pass it off as your own. In making sure that your paper is plagiarism-free, here are some tips to help you.

Let us assume that you already have a topic outline and have conducted preliminary research to map out your paper (for tips on making a research paper, click here ). In doing your actual research, you need to take note of the following for all your sources regardless of the citation style required by your superior:

Author Name – It is best to jot down the full name of the author/s as certain citation styles like MLA require the full name while others only require abbreviation of the first and middle names. There are sources, however, that do not have a known author. For such materials, note the title of the work.

Title – This can either be a book or an article. For an article, you also need the title of the book, magazine, newspaper or website where it can be found.

Page Number – Always note the pages where you got your information. If your source is an article, note the first and last page of the article aside from the individual pages where you lifted specific information. This is because these pages are required in your Bibliography entry.

Publication Date – This is the date when the work was published. This is generally found at the back of the title page for books while magazines/journal articles print this usually on the cover page. For web sources, note the date of last update if available; otherwise, take note of the copyright year.

Publisher – This is generally required only for books. This information can be found at the back of the title page where the copyright information can be found.
Place of Publication – This can likewise be found along with other copyright information. Most citation styles require only the city or state (if in U.S.) where the work was published.

URL (for online sources) – This is the web address where the article can be found.

Date of Access (for online sources) – It is important to note the date when you accessed the website since websites often change their content and some are no longer available after a period of time.

Having collected the above information, you can adapt to any citation style required by your professor. For more information on how to cite your sources, check the university handout or website as some provide guidelines for students. Otherwise, you have to include that in your research. You can buy or borrow books from the library on various citation styles like MLA, APA, Harvard, and Chicago/Turabian. The internet is also a rich source for guidelines on various citation styles like The Owl at Purdue for MLA and APA. You can also check The University of Queensland's Harvard citation guideline which is also available for download. The Ohio State University provides Turabian Citation Guide that you can also use. These are only samples of citation guidelines you can use as reference in citing your sources. You must note the source you used as citation reference so should your professor question you about them, you can justify it. Always remember, however, that it is best to consult with your professor first as to particular preferences they may have regarding the format and specifics on citation styles.

One of the most important purposes of citing your sources is so your professor or anybody who reads your paper can have access to these sources. This can be to double check your claim or should they want to read more about the topic. Thus, it is essential to double check your bibliography entries and your inline / in-text citations (found within the body of your paper) or footnotes / endnotes before submitting your paper.

Generally, you must cite your sources when you use the following:

Short Direct Quote – These are views of the author/s copied verbatim which must be enclosed in quotation marks (“”) and ends with a footnote/endnote number or parenthetical citation like (Smith 125) or (Combs, 2006, p. 73). Always remember, if you used three or more words from your source that must be treated as direct quote. Failing to enclose them in quotation mark will render it as a plagiarized work even if you cite your source/s at the end of the paragraph.

Long Direct Quote – As with the previous item, this involves words lifted from a source that exceeds three (3) lines. This will not be enclosed in quotation marks but must be indented so they will be properly identified from the rest of your paper and likewise ends with proper citation. Use this sparingly as using too many long direct quotes from sources is a sign of laziness or it shows that you do not understand your topic well enough to even rephrase them.

Rephrased Sentences / Views / Concept – These are those that you rephrased or presented using your own words. This is usually where accidental plagiarism takes place as some thought it is okay not to cite the source as long as you do not use the exact words. Using your own words does not make you own the idea , even as you combine them with ideas from other sources. Combining ideas using different sources would entail citing both or all the sources used. With plagiarism, the issue is not only the words used but the idea or concept as well.


In making the draft of your paper, one effective way of not missing any necessary citation while using your word processor is to enclose everything you copy in quotation marks (including those you intend to rephrase later) as you copy them and write the proper citation at the end of each (author/s, year, page number). Moreover, as you lift or copy information from a source, create the bibliography entry in the Bibliography Page immediately after, before moving on to the next information so you will not miss anything as you focus on writing your paper later.

As you write your paper, the quotation marks would allow you to identify which are your own words and which are those you copied. This way, confusion can be avoided and accidental plagiarism can be prevented. After you have rephrased what you need to reword, that is the only time you should delete the copied information. In doing so, you are able to check if you somehow used more than three words consecutively so you can add quotation marks or rephrase even more. Adjust the format of long direct quotes (indented) and remove the quotation marks only after you have finished adjusting the format so you are still able to identify them.

Most importantly, proofread your work if possible. Double or triple check if possible. In cases wherein you do not have anybody who can proofread your work for you, just save the file and close it for a while. Let a few minutes pass before opening the file again to proofread your paper. As the person who wrote the paper, you know the words you used or supposed to use so you sometimes tend to read the right word when you misspelled or used the wrong one if you check immediately. Do not depend too much on the spelling and grammar checking features of your word processor as they are not completely accurate. By letting a few minutes pass by to refresh your mind, you will be able to identify the mistakes you committed while writing the paper and correct them.

In doing your paper, keep this in mind: support every single claim you make with proper sources . As an academic paper, you cannot just make any claim without due support. Even experts in any field do not just make claims unless they have studies, proofs and valid evidences to support their claim. It would be fatal to just go about making claims without due support as they would lose their integrity that will strip them of the title “expert.” It will never do to make specific claims just because you said so.

Claims that need not be supported are limited to universal truths or knowledge such as the world is round or that earth is a planet. Need to check? Think about this: if not everybody (and I mean everybody ) knows about what you are saying, you would have to use sources to support that claim, no matter how innocuous that claim might be.