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Best Practices to Avoid Plagiarism: Do's and Do Nots, Common Causes

Do's and Do Not's

Don't: Do:

take an idea, even when you put it in your own words (paraphrase).

put a citation in a footnote at the end of the idea or sentence.

take or borrow many words, even if you change most of them.

either quote exactly, or use all your own words. Then cite the source.

take an argument

mark both the beginning and end of what you borrowed. Ex: "as John Smith aruges...", give the argument, then give the citation in a footnote at the end of the argument.

take a pattern of ideas

say something like "Jane Doe has given a good overview...", Then make it clear what Jane contributed and what you did yourself.

take the quotes that someone else has gathered and cited

say something like "John Smith, as quoted by Jane Doe..." then give the rest of the citation. Borrowing too many quotes that someone else has gathered is bad form, since they've done all the work.

Common Causes

Cause How to avoid this

Mixing your own text with source text.

Look away from your source text when writing, and especially when paraphrasing.

Similar to the above, but due to sloppy note-taking.

Use quotation marks (or italicize) to identify someone else's words or ideas, etc. Always keep the citation information next to the quote, etc.

Last-minute panic

Allow time to get the work done. 

Insufficient resources to complete project

Check early to see that enough resources are available.

Incomplete citation notes.

Take complete notes. For photocopies, be sure to include the title page and its backside.


Get help: Ask Us! Librarians help with research and the Writing Center with composition.


Exceptions for Common Knowledge

"Common knowledge" does not need to be footnoted. It consists of facts that are easily findable. No one person can take credit for them. This doesn't mean that everyone knows it, and it may be news to you.

Some examples:

    • Kigali is the capital of Rwanda
    • Las Cruces is located in the Chihuahuan desert, the largest desert of North America
    • Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years

By contrast,

    • If the idea or research is unique, you need to give credit.
    • If the fact is hard to find, you want to indicate where it can be located.

When in doubt, cite your source!

    • A conservative rule is to cite anything you did not know before you began your research.
    • A more liberal standard is that anything that would be in a general encyclopedia is common knowledge.
    • Different disciplines and professions have different standards for deciding what is common knowledge. Consult with your professors.

Citation FAQs

Q: What if I have a great quote, but it leaves out essential information?

A: You can insert additional information by using the square parenthesis marks: [ ] This lets the reader know that you have added some part to a quote.

"According to [New York Attorney General Eliot] Spitzer's findings, AOL customer representatives received bonuses of thousands of dollars if they managed to retain about half of the people who called trying to cancel service -- and that led some employees to fail to process such requests. Workers who did not meet that quota were overlooked for promotions or sent for additional training, Spitzer's office said."

Noguchi, Yuki, "AOL to Pay $1.25 Million Fine; Dulles Company to Change Customer Service Practices," The Washington Post, August 25, 2005, D05.


Q: What if I want to use a quote but it contains a lot of extra stuff I don't want?

A: You can drop the unwanted part, using ellipsis [….] to mark the omission. This lets you cut pieces off the beginning or end, or from the middle.

Picacho Mountain is "…a Spanish-English double-generic, like Rio River or Laguna Lake." Robert Julyan, Place Names of New Mexico, Revised edition, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1998, p. 266.


Q: What if I just want to use a fact from a source, but say it in different words?>

A: Say it in your own words, and then provide a footnote.

In the early days of Las Cruces, riders would race their horses on Alameda Street every Sunday afternoon (ftnt. 1).

1. Hunner, Jon, et al., Las Cruces, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston SC, 2003, p. 21.


Q. What if I want to use words that were quoted in another source?

One of the points that Malcom Gladwell makes in Blink is that more thinking does not mean better thinking: talking or explaining can actually impede good judgment. He points to what the psychologist Jonathan W. Schooler calls "verbal overshadowing," when an accurate perceptual judgment is overridden by a misleading verbalization.

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Little, Brown, and Company, New York and Boston, 2005, p. 119-121. Citing Jonathan W. Schooler, Stellan Ohlson, and Kevin Brooks, "Thoughts Beyond Words: When Language Overshadows Insight," Journal of Experimental Psychology 122, no. 2 (1993),166-183.

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