Writing Centers

Avoiding Plagiarism

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs Policy on Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s words, ideas or data as one’s own. When a student submits work that includes the words, ideas, or data of others, the source of that information must be acknowledged through complete, accurate and specific citations, as well as quotation marks if verbatim statements are included. By placing his/her name on work submitted, the student certifies the originality of all work not otherwise identified by appropriate acknowledgments. Examples of plagiarism include: copying someone else’s previously prepared material such as lab reports, class papers, etc.; copying a paragraph or even sentences from other works; and self-plagiarism (turning in for new credit your own work from a previous class without authorization).

(“Academic Dishonesty,” Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Catalog and Student Handbook).

Plagiarism is a very serious academic and ethical issue. Most universities impose penalties on students or staff who plagiarize, whether the plagiarism is deliberate or inadvertent. A few students plagiarize in an attempt to cut corners or to cover academic deficiencies. Other students, unfortunately, plagiarize because they don’t understand the concept of plagiarism and the methods for avoiding it. In either case, students are held accountable for their actions, and the penalty could be as severe as dismissal from the institution. Follow the rules of citation and documentation carefully, and make sure you understand what is meant by paraphrasing.

Tips on Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s work as your own. If you use another author’s words you must attribute the work to its original source (its author, composer, etc.).

  • If you borrow an idea from, or directly quote from, another person’s work, you must cite the source of that idea or quote.
  • Phrases borrowed word-for-word from another author must be placed in quotation marks and followed by the page number from the original source.
  • You must cite a source even if you don’t quote directly from it.
  • Paraphrase with care. Inadequate paraphrasing can be another form of plagiarism, even with documentation provided.

In APA style, a citation consists of the author(s)’s last name and date of publication. A full citation appears on the References page.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

Quoting and Paraphrasing

For more on this topic, see our Quoting and Paraphrasing module and Paraphrasing Techniques handout.


Quoting means to borrow an author’s exact words while putting quotation marks around the borrowed language. Use direct quotes sparingly in your paper, as they can be distracting to the reader and break the flow of your paper. They also give no indication that you understood the source.

When you do use direct quotes, make sure to place quoted material in quotation marks and provide the author, date of publication, and page number. Neglecting to do so is considered plagiarism.

Here is a correct example of a direct quote:

Bucksch et al. (2016)* added that these “screen-time behaviors” have become normalized due to “the availability of screens, ready access to the Internet, and the increasing importance of social media in young people’s lives” (p. 422).

At the end of your paper, you must provide a full reference for the work you cited in your text.

Reference: Bucksch, J., D. Sigmundova, Z., Harmik, P. J., Troped, O., Melkevik, N., Ahluwalia, N., … Inchley, J. International trends in adolescent screen-time behaviors from 2002 to 2010. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58, 417-425. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.11.014


Good scholarship requires that you paraphrase the source information you use in your paper–that is, state the information in your own words rather than quote it. Paraphrased information requires a citation in the form of the author’s last name and year of publication. Failure to cite the source of paraphrased information is considered plagiarism.

Paraphrasing requires that you express ideas as you understand them, in your own terms. Simply changing or omitting a few words of another author’s statements in order to avoid a direct quote is not paraphrasing—it is a form of plagiarism. Readers are led to believe that you are presenting your understanding of another author’s words, when in fact you are using that author’s actual words (mostly). Of course, you will use some of the same terminology as the original author. If you are writing about corporate downsizing, for example, you can’t avoid that term. However, if you copy the original author’s sentence structure, style, and diction, then you are not paraphrasing.

Here’s a strategy for paraphrasing: Read a section of the text you plan to reference, put the text aside, and write your own interpretation in your own words. If you can’t do it, you need to reread the text for better understanding before you try again. For more tips on how to paraphrase, see our Paraphrasing Strategies handout.

Here is an example of a poor and a good paraphrase:

Exact Quotation

“One explanation for the significant increase of sedentary behavior, especially screen time among adolescents, could be that the habit of watching TV has always had a significant social impact on the lives of children and adolescents” (Straatman et al., 2016, p. 7-8)

Reference: Straatman, V. S.,  Oliveira, A.J., Rostila, M., & Lopes, C.S. Changes in physical activity and screen time related to psychological well-being in early adolescence: Findings from longitudinal study ELANA. BMC Public Health, 16 (977), 1-11. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3606-8.

Poor Paraphrase

One reason for the increase of lazy behavior could be that the custom of watching TB has always had an important social impact on the lives of kids (Straatman et al., 2016).

Even though the paraphraser found synonyms for some of the original words, the passage could still be considered plagiarism because the pattern of expression is so similar to that of the original. Now compare the paraphrase above to the following more acceptable paraphrase, in which the ideas are expressed in a new way.

Good Paraphrase

For example, watching TV is often a social activity among adolescents (Straatman et al., 2016).

This paraphrase is better because both the words and the pattern of expression have been changed.

Resources For Avoiding Plagiarism

For Students

Avoiding Plagiarism – Purdue University OWL

Examples of Plagiarism – Princeton University

Avoiding Plagiarism – DePauw University

Avoiding Plagiarism- Mastering the Art of Scholarship – University of California, Davis

Harvard Guide to Using Sources – Harvard College

Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing – Plagiarism.org

How to Paraphrase a Source – University of Wisconsin-Madison

Avoiding and Detecting Plagiarism – State University of New York, New Paltz, Sojourner Truth Library

Purdue University OWL – Plagiarism and the research paper. The nation’s best known Online Writing Lab comments on the underlying causes of plagiarism and suggests how to avoid it.

Purdue University OWL – Printable handout.  Must be duplicated exactly as shown.

For Faculty

Saint Mary’s Guidelines for Faculty– SGPP Writing Center

Plagiarism: Understanding and Addressing It – Colorado State University

Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers – Robert Harris, author of The Plagiarism Handbook

Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: WPA Statement on Best Practices– Council of Writing Program Administrators



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