Avoiding plagiarism means avoiding serious academic penalty since plagiarism consists of falsely representing the writing/ideas of someone else as if they were your own. Make sure you establish a strong system for taking notes and keeping track of sources as a way of avoiding unintentional plagiarism, even if you are paraphrasing someone else’s ideas rather than quoting them directly. Remember that any time you use a quotation, paraphrase, summary, opinion, statistic, graph, or argument from someone else, you must provide a citation for the source.

In order to take good notes that help in the process of providing documentation of ideas, remember to record the exact page number or set of pages, the author’s name, and a shortened title of the source. You can keep a working bibliography as you take notes in order to record the full title, author’s name, and publication information that you will need for the final research paper. Notes can be taken on index cards or in notebooks, though index cards are convenient for organization when the actual writing stage begins.

When using a direct quotation, make sure you copy punctuation, capitalization, and spelling exactly as the original appears. Remember to place quotation marks around the full quotation, and remember that your quotation needs to be exact.

When paraphrasing, you state the same meaning found in a source but in your own words. Make sure to include the main point and important details from the original source. Represent the same order of ideas as you found them in the original source. You may also combine a paraphrase with a quotation from the original source. Remember to have a full note with proper bibliographic material for the paraphrase in your working bibliography.

Remember, there's nothing wrong with using ideas and words from other sources, but you have to acknowledge what you have borrowed. If you try to use ideas and words from other sources as if they were your own, that is plagiarism. Therefore, it is plagiarism if you copy sections from another source without using quotation marks and proper citation, it is plagiarism if you put someone else's writing in your own words (paraphrase) and don't give credit, and it is plagiarism if you hand in work from another course without the permission of both instructors.

The Purdue On-Line Writing Lab (OWL) also provides excellent information, including some exercises that help illustrate these central issues. Check out their resource on avoiding plagiarism.


Many students at Hobart and William Smith work with Writing Colleagues or other classmates and friends as they develop ideas and plans for writing and then use the ideas and words of Writing Colleagues, classmates or friends in their writing. Make sure that you give credit in these situations by using a regular citation or at least providing an endnote that acknowledges the assistance. At the end of the paper, for example, the student could add this note: "I would like to thank ________ for the ideas expressed in the second section of my paper." (Thanks to Professor Anna Creadick for this important suggestion.)

Sometimes you may use materials that do not require citations. Such materials may include:

  • information that is common knowledge (for example, it is commonly known that John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, so that is common knowledge; however, the conspiracy theories about his murder must acknowledge a source since not everyone is familiar with this information)
  • facts that are available to readers from many sources
  • material you gain independently such as interviews, surveys, or observations from your own experiences.

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