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Plagiarism: WHAT IS PLAGIARISM AND HOW TO AVOID IT

Direct Quotes, Summaries & Paraphrases

You should cite when:

  • Referring to a source and stating someone else's opinions, thoughts, ideas, or research
  • Using an image or media file that you did not create
    When in doubt, cite it

When referring to a source, you have 3 options:

  1. Directly Quoting 
  2. Summarizing 
  3. Paraphrase 

Which option you should choose depends on how much of a source you are using, how you are using it, and what kind of paper you are writing--since different fields use sources in different ways.

You do not need to cite a source for:

  • Your thoughts and your interpretations
  • Common knowledge​

What is a direct quotation? 

"Must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author."

Use it:

  • If summarizing or paraphrasing cannot capture the essence or meaning of the text 
  • To retain a specific or unique phrasing used by the source's author
  • If you are analyzing the text itself (often in English or language classes)

Be advised:

Most of the time when you cite a source, you want to summarize or paraphrase. Direct quotations should be used sparingly when the situation meets the criteria above. When you do use direct quotations:

  • Do not take the quote out of context. The author's meaning should not change.
  • Be sure to integrate multiple sources within your text. You don't want to have a paper or a passage that seems to have come only from one source, with little original text from you.
  • Use transitions to make sure your quote adds to your paper without interrupting its flow.

How to Cite a Direct Quotation:  

  • Place quotation marks around the entire word-for-word passage, whether it's a phrase or a sentence.
  • Attribute with an in-text citation; most citation styles request that you provide a page or paragraph number when directly citing.  
  • If your quotation is longer, check with your citation style guide to see if additional formatting is necessary (block quotations, for example).  

What is a Summary?

"Involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s).... Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material." 

"Similar to paraphrasing, summarizing involves using your own words and writing style to express another author's ideas. Unlike the paraphrase, which presents important details, the summary presents only the most important ideas of the passage."

Use it:

  • To provide necessary background information for your audience
  • When broad, concise information will suffice 

How to cite a summary:  

  • Attribute with an in-text citation; some citation styles request that you provide a page or paragragh number whenever available.
  • You should not be using any word-for-word quotations or language unique to the source, so you do NOT need quotation marks around your summary.

What is a paraphrase? 

"A paraphrase is a detailed restatement in your own words of a written or sometimes spoken source material. Apart from the changes in organization, wording, and sentence structure, the paraphrase should be nearly identical in meaning to the original passage. It should also be near the same length as the original passage and present the details of the original."

Paraphrasing is "your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form."

When paraphrasing, you must change both the sentence structure and the language of the original text

Use it:

  • "When the wording is less important than the meaning of the source"
  • If a summary would not provide enough specific details

How to cite a paraphrase:  

  • Attribute with an in-text citation; some citation styles request that you provide a page or paragraph number whenever available.
  • When paraphrasing, you must change both the sentence structure and language of the original text.  Therefore, since you will be changing the text, you do NOT need quotation marks around your paraphrase.

Common Knowledge:

It doesn't necessarily mean that most people would know it offhand. And sometimes it's a judgment call because what seems like common knowledge to one person isn't to another. Here are good rules of thumb:

  • If you can find the same information in multiple places, stated in relatively the same way, it's common knowledge (Generally, it is said that you should find the information three to five sources)
  • If most people are aware of this fact, or if it's general reference, it's common knowledge

Caution:  Opinions and unique terminology/phrasing do not qualify as common knowledge.

When in doubt, cite

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Multimedia Sources

Not just words need to be cited. Remember to give credit for any multimedia resources that you use.

Find images, but check the terms of use.

Information about citing other multimedia sources in MLA and APA.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

Read the Source in its Entirety:

  • It's easy to take something out of context if you only read a portion of it! If you read the entire source, you should have a better feel of the author's meaning.

Take Detailed Notes as you Read:

  • Anytime you note something word-for-word, immediately place it in quotation marks. Also note what page or section you found it on.
  • On each page, make sure you note the original source and the date you accessed the source. This will make citation much easier, especially if you are working with multiple sources or doing research over a long stretch of time.
  • Try not to mix your own thoughts and commentary with excerpts from your source. Keep them on separate pages, draw two columns on your page, or switch your pen color.
  • If you find it difficult to take notes with electronic sources - or if you find yourself drawn to the copy-paste method - print out your sources and deal with them in print form.

Return to Your Notes Later

  • In order to do this, you must not procrastinate on your projects. If you don't have sufficient time, you won't do your best work, and it may lead you to make poor decisions when including your sources. Remember, if you get caught plagiarizing, the situation or your intentions won't be an excuse. Build in time to synthesize and properly work in your sources.
  • Identify which sources are best for inclusion. Understand when you have to cite. Then decide whether you should directly quote, summarize, or paraphrase. If you are directly quoting, double-check your notes against the source for accuracy. If you are summarizing or paraphrasing:
    • Make sure the source is fresh in your mind, but not right in front of you. If you see the original text, you are more likely to want to use their terms and sentence structure.
    • Check your writing against the original. Remember, you should have changed the sentence structure and the language but the meaning of the source should still be the same. Any language that is unique to the source should be placed in quotation marks or removed. You may find it necessary to do several edits.

Consult with Experts

  • If you need a second opinion, ask!  Ask the librarian, a tutor in the SLC, or your professor. 

Can You Spot Plagiarism?

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This guide was adapted from one at Butler University Libraries. Used by permission.

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