Overview and Objectives:

In this section we will explain the concept of plagiarism, and how to avoid accidental plagiarism by inserting citations appropriately and understanding how to paraphrase, but not copy, the work of others. We will also discuss why proper attribution is important to the research community.

Upon completion of this section, you should be able to:

Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding plagiarism, that is, presenting someone else’s work without proper accreditation, is one of the more complicated aspects of academic integrity. Luckily this type of violation is also easily avoidable with proper citation, which includes the proper use of paraphrasing.

If you mention a concept that was not in your head before you encountered it somewhere else, that concept needs to be cited. Even subjects you are already very knowledgeable about can benefit from citation - referencing other sources reassures your reader that the ideas you are stating are, in fact, informed opinions.

Citation does not exist to be a time-consuming step to prove to your instructor that you didn’t plagiarize. The fact is, researchers in all disciplines build on the ideas of others ALL the time in many different ways, from quoting research papers, to modifying lines of code. This is the way scholarship moves forward. Citation exists so that researchers can navigate this discussion.

A well-cited paper or project adds your voice to this scholarly conversation. Those who read your cited paper can see:

There are dozens of different formats for citing sources, such as MLA, APA, and Chicago. We’re not going into the specifics of each one. It is the responsibility of your instructor to decide on the citation format expected for your assignments, and it is your responsibility to inform yourself on that format and stick with it throughout each assignment. Guides to specific citation styles can be found through the University Libraries, as well as through tools like the Purdue Owl.



Written ideas are as numerous as the human capacity to write words on things. Books, magazines, and other physical forms of text are all pretty obvious sources of written material that you might want to cite, but when it comes to text found on the Internet, the same rules apply, whether you’re using ideas found on a simple website like Wikipedia, a discussion you’ve been following on Reddit, or statistics from an infographic someone posted on Facebook (hey, we’re just telling you what you have to cite, not whether the information is worth using, though information evaluation is worth mentioning).

Remember, even if you don’t know who the author of a piece of information is, that information still must be cited.

Media in Research

Video and audio are formats that provide information that can be used to support your research, but these ideas should be cited just like you would cite text. Each citation style has its own rules for these types of material. Just like you need bibliographic information like the title and author of a textual work, it’s important to keep track of the air date, title (this can be as simple as “Channel 7, Ten O’clock News”), and producing entity of both video and audio sources for easy citation.

Media as Audiovisual Aids

If you use images, video, or audio to support your assignment as audio or visual aids, all of this material must be cited, unless you are the original creator.

Keep in mind that plagiarism and copyright violation are not the same.

Copyright is a legal concern; avoiding plagiarism is an ethical and academic one. Even if you are given permission by a copyright holder to use an image, that image still must be cited. On the other hand, citing an image properly does not mean that using it does not violate copyright. For more information on copyright, please consult these Penn State copyright resources.

Citing Yourself

If you have done a previous assignment on a topic, you can’t copy and paste that research into a current paper without citing yourself. Reusing an assignment in this way is an egregious academic integrity violation. Building on your previous work by citing yourself, however, is mature academic practice, and only takes about thirty seconds. You worked hard on that other paper, cite yourself!


Research is using information to create new information. One of the most powerful ways to do this is through paraphrasing, which is already something we do all the time when talking about our ideas. Paraphrasing in academic work formalizes the process by both providing a citation after paraphrased concept, and contextualizing the original information within the researcher’s new ideas. Let’s start with a direct quote by Kanye West (whom we haven’t cited directly, because his quote was from an interview that someone else wrote):

"This is my problem with interviews, you know? What if you did music, and someone else could come in and change your words around and then release it to the radio? And you ain't even get a chance to listen to it before they dropped it to radio? That's how interviews are! You say what you say and then you get paraphrased” (Weiner). 

The goal of paraphrasing is this: when putting someone else’s thoughts into your own words, you are also entangling them with your own ideas. If you were paraphrasing Kanye West’s quote, it would not be enough to simply do this:

What if you performed music and others came in and changed your words around, then played it on the radio? What if this was all done before you had the chance to see it? That’s the essence of interviews. You say what you feel, but then those words are paraphrased (Weiner).

This is so close to the original statement it might as well be a direct quote. There is no sense of the author’s own ideas and no synthesis of those ideas with West’s thoughts. Anti-plagiarism software might even flag this paragraph as being plagiarized. More effective paraphrasing would be something like this:

Individuals such as Kanye West have compared the experience to recording a song then having it released with no control over the editing whatsoever. What comes out on the other side turns out to be something very different indeed (Weiner). This shows one of the real downsides of celebrity: the sense of rarely having your own authentic voice, especially in interviews with the press.

The music-making metaphor was not the author’s own idea, however, through application of this metaphor in combination with the author’s concept of celebrity, a richer synthesis of original quote and new concept is presented.

This is, maybe, a pretty extreme example. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t quote Kanye West in an academic paper if given the chance? But the same basic idea stands for any information, no matter how dull or indecipherable it might seem.

Weiner, J. (2010, August 25). Kanye West Has a Goblet. Slate. Retrieved from


It is a violation of academic integrity to present someone else’s work as your own. That means:

Your instructors understand how to use the Internet just as well as you.
They can do a Google search. They also notice when your writing differs from your typical style. They have access to anti-plagiarism resources like Turnitin. In general, they are highly educated people who are very intelligent. If you copy, either part of your assignment or the whole thing, the chances of your getting caught are a lot higher than you might think.