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Library DIY: Citing Sources

Avoiding Plagiarism

Hopefully, you know not to copy and paste part or all of someone else's work (even your own past work) into your paper or project without citing it - that's blatant plagiarism.  But what about "subtle" or "accidental" plagiarism?

Here are some tips to help you avoid plagiarism:

Make sure you understand your assignment and sources.

Many times, accidental plagiarism comes from not fully understanding the topic and/or the assignment. Review your assignment carefully and develop good reading habits to be sure you understand what you are reading (and give yourself plenty of time to work on your paper) before starting to write.


Understand when to cite.

The general rule is to cite something you learned from a source that is not general knowledge within the discipline.

More specifically, you should cite your source when you

  • Quote
  • Paraphrase
  • Summarize
  • State facts or data that aren't common knowledge
  • Use any words or ideas that are not explicitly your own.


Understand how to properly cite in some common scenarios.

Citation format and how best to integrate a quote or paraphrased idea into a sentence will vary based on the writing style used in your class/field/discipline (APA, MLA, and Chicago are the most common).  See the style-specific tabs on the left menu bar for more information.


Learn how to paraphrase.

“Mosaic Plagiarism” is when a writer poorly paraphrases a statement, they may find some new synonyms, but their work has a similar sentence structure to the original source. This is a very common form of plagiarism and often comes from not understanding the source or not knowing that mosaic plagiarism is something to watch for. Learning how to paraphrase well will help you prevent this type of plagiarism.


If you aren't sure - cite it!

If you’re not sure whether a piece of information is considered "common knowledge", it is better to cite it than not. Most professors will appreciate the effort and conscientiousness above all.

One way to identify common knowledge that may not need to be cited is to compare your sources.  Do you have multiple sources that state the same fact(s)? Do those sources cite that fact or do they simply state that it is true? Follow the example set by the authors of your sources. 

When in doubt, specifically ask your professor if the piece of information is something that needs to be cited. 


Re-read your paper!

This is a good idea for more than just plagiarism. If you write your paper three or more days before it’s due, you have the opportunity to reread and revise with fresh eyes. That way, you will be able to see your work as someone else (like your professor) would see it.


We recommend re-reading your paper three times before turning it in

  1. Read for content and structure
    • Did you address all of the points you wanted to make?
    • Are your paragraphs/sections in a logical order?
    • Underline the main points of your thesis/hypothesis and make sure you can find all of them in your paper.
  2. Read for grammar, spelling, wording, and flow - this is best done by reading your paper out loud or listening to someone else (like a tutor at the Academic Success Center) read your paper.
  3. Proofread to double-check citations.