Understanding Plagiarism and Intellectual Honesty

Writers are expected to cite sources and provide accurate references when taking ideas, information or words from other sources including their own work developed during other course work. In simple terms, presenting others’ work as your own or resubmitting an entire work that you previously created for another course is considered plagiarism and this is a serious academic offence.  

An important habit in academic writing is to write using your own words and to provide proper attribution for all sources used. Published or unpublished sources (i.e. letters, email or memos, course papers – including your own previous papers), in print, online or other communication form (i.e. online reports, news media, blogs, forums, dialogue) all require proper attribution. Belcher (2009) lists the following basic rules to avoid plagiarism of ideas, information or words:

  • Never take another’s entire article (published or unpublished) and represent it as your own.
  • Never take an entire article and vary every fourth or fifth word and claim it as your own.
  • Never take an entire article and follow the structure and argument of the piece, exactly paralleling the author’s train of thought but not quite in his or her language.
  • Never take an article, translate it into another language, and claim it as your own.
  • Never lift a page or section word for word from another’s piece and place it in your own.
  • Never lift various paragraphs word for word from another piece and sprinkle them throughout your own.
  • Never lift a paragraph or a sentence word for word from another’s piece and place it in your own unless you put quote marks around it and add a citation to the original. (p. 161)

    Other academic writing tips I recommend to students:

    • Paragraphs should generally begin and end with sentences composed with your own words providing the argument or summary of ideas. In other words, it is important to make your point (i.e. topichttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadssummary sentences) using your own words and not using direct quotes from other sources.
    • Use sources to support your point in the middle parts of a paragraph.
    • In some cases it is meaningful to add a direct quote – the exact words used by an author in quotation marks. In this case, it is advised to follow the American Psychological Association (APA) suggestions for a maximum length for the number of words from a single text extract.  According to APA you can use fewer than 400 words from one text or article or a series of text extracts fewer than 800 words (2010, p. 173). However, a general rule of thumb is to use direct quotations sparingly and only when the wording is really strong and the meaning would be lost if you paraphrase it into your own words.  As much as possible, try to summarize what the author is saying in your own words, and then cite the source including the page number to help you locate the text if needed at a later time.
    • Check that all your sources are cited and quotation marks surround the borrowed words.
    • Avoid following the original text too closely when paraphrasing as this might be considered parallel structure.
    • Borrowed words generally stand out to the reader and seem inconsistent with the writer’s style or may seem incoherent when lifted and placed in your work.   So, continually review and revise your work to improve clarity and make sure you are using your own voice.
    • Use secondary sources sparingly. If an author references another source, it is important you locate and review the original source if needed for a citation. Do not rely on other authors’ citations, as there could be an error in the citation or reference. If the original text is not retrievable then cite as a secondary source (as cited in) only if the citation is critical to your work and another appropriate source is not available.
    • Appropriately cite any work you (individually or in a group) wrotehttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadssubmitted in another course to avoid self-plagiarism. The APA suggests, “author’s words that are cited should be located in a single paragraph or a few paragraphs, with a citation at the end of each. Opening such paragraphs with a phrase like, ‘as I have previously discussed’ will also alert readers to the status of the upcoming material” (APA, 2010, p. 16). In other words, you could start a particular section by stating, “the following content was previously written for a paper for …course work” or “ideas from a previously written paper [give title of work] have been incorporated in the following section.”  Also include the reference to your work in the reference section of your paper. If using more than a few paragraphs from a previous paper, then consult with your instructor.
    • Crosscheck all your in-text citations with your reference list for accuracy.

      Let me know if you have additional sources or tips that you recommend.


      American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

      Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.