Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is popping up in the news again, and it makes regular appearances in discussions on editors’ forums. But there is often confusion as to what constitutes plagiarism. Simply put, plagiarism is making someone else’s writing appear to be your own. It’s not enough just to name the source; text that is directly quoted must appear in quotation marks (with a source citation, of course). Text that’s not inside quotation marks must be thoroughly paraphrased, and if it describes someone else’s original idea, the source should be credited. Changing a few words is not proper paraphrasing; the borrowed text must differ from the source throughout, not only in vocabulary but also in structure.


  • When doing research, as soon as you open a source (book, article, website) copy the publication information into your notes:
    • book: author, title, publisher and location, date
    • article: author, title, journal, date, volume, issue, and page numbers; URL or DOI
    • website: author (if applicable), website name, organization, URL
  • Keep your notes organized so that the source of each bit of information is clear.
  • If you paste direct quotes into your notes, clearly mark them as quotes—put them in quotation marks, and perhaps make them a different font colour or put them in a box. Make sure that later you’ll easily be able to tell what is a direct quote and what are your own notes and thoughts, and where each quote came from, including specific page numbers. In my own research, my notes start out almost entirely as identifiable quotes; later, after I’ve done more reading and mulled over the ideas, I paraphrase them and add my own thoughts.
  • When you come to write the document, decide if you want to use a few direct quotes: usually a sentence or so that expresses an idea particularly well or in a distinctive way that you want to share with your readers. Use direct quotes sparingly, and double-check that each one is correctly credited. Ensure that you properly paraphrase anything not appearing in quotation marks, changing not only the words but the structure of the passage, such as the order in which ideas are presented and the syntax of each sentence.
  • Always cite your sources. Even if you’ve carefully and thoroughly paraphrased, give credit for the ideas that aren’t your own. If it’s important that your document show original thinking on your part, let it be your insight into the topic gained through gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing ideas from various named sources. As a bonus, citing sources shows that you’re keeping up with the experts in your field.