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How To Avoid Plagiarism
from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

The American Heritage dictionary defines the verb plagiarize: "To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own."[1]. Plagiarizing, or representing someone else's ideas as your own, will cause problems for people in any stage of life. Students get flunked for it and it even helped cost Joe Biden a shot at becoming the US President in 1988.[2] Here is how you can make sure you don't plagiarize on purpose or by accident.


  1. Understand what plagiarism is. The American Heritage dictionary defines plagiarism as: "the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work."[3] Thus plagiarism not only includes the word-for-word copying of another piece of work, but close imitation of it also. Using synonyms and other word choices is not an excuse to justify plagiarism. You should write a piece of text strictly in your own words and then cite your sources.
  2. Be familiar in the area that you are talking about. By understanding the subject, you are more likely to write in your own words, rather than restate someone else's definition of this subject. Look for information on the topic you want to write about. This can be on the Internet or in books.
  3. Restate the subject to yourself a couple of times. The key is to understand the material and be able to express its meaning in your own words. Try to avoid reading from another author's material too much, as you will be more inclined to restate that author's exact statement.
  4. Reference your quotes and sources. You should include a bibliography or works cited in your paper. If you use a direct quote from another author's work, then you should quote it and cite it properly. Many teachers accept the standard MLA format, unless otherwise specified.
  5. Understand some basics about copyright. Plagiarism can be more than a bad academic practice, it can be a violation of the law if you break copyright. Here is what you need to understand to stay legal.:
    • As a general rule, facts cannot be copyrighted. This means that you are able to use any facts you find to support your writing.[4]
    • Although facts are not subject to copyright, the words used to express them are, particularly if the wording is original or unique (copyright covers original expression). You are free to use information from other materials in your articles, but you must use your own words to express it. To avoid this, you can take the existing facts and put them into your own words. There is a grace on how different the phrase can be; adding a comma is not enough. However, changing the grammar around is.[5]



  • Some schools offer programs/services that scan papers for plagiarized content. If you are highly concerned, then you might want to consider such services.
  • If you are honestly writing a paper or essay, the chances of you plagiarizing another person's content are very slim. If you are conscious of the fact that you are copying someone else's work, then chances are that you will be caught.
  • If you must copy, do not copy whole pages or paragraphs! Instead, put most of it into your own words, and quote the copied part. Then, cite your source using the proper Bibliography format. Use to cite your sources in the proper format.
  • If you're worried something that you have might sound like someone else's, it's probably because it does.
  • Here's one suggestion for getting things into your own words. Use Google's language tools to take an article and translate it into another language: for example, English to German. Then copy and paste Google's translation back into Google's language tools and translate that into another language: in our example, German to Portuguese. Then translate that back into English. You will end up with extremely broken English that is barely understandable. Using the knowledge of the subject that you've gained from reading the articles and researching, now you can fix the broken English and will have an article that has your own influence placed on it.


  • Don't take the risk of attempting to plagiarize. Not only will it cost you your grade, but also your respect and reputation with most teachers and colleagues. Many colleges and universities will expel students who deliberately plagiarize.

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Sources and Citations

  1. ?
  2. ?,_1988
  3. ?
  4. ? U.S. Supreme Court Decision: HARPER & ROW v. NATION ENTERPRISES, 471 U.S. 539 (1985)
  5. ? U.S. Supreme Court Decision: FEIST PUBLICATIONS, INC. v. RURAL TELEPHONE SERVICE CO., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Avoid Plagiarism. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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