Open waters, tight places, and public speaking are all common fears. But there is one particular fear that heightens anxiety and cripples researchers more than anything else—the fear of unintentional plagiarism. But knowing how to avoid plagiarism can be tricky sometimes.
How will you know if your work is too close to the original?
How can you make sure that you’re citing sources properly?
Plagiarism scares researchers like any paranoia would, mainly because it’s a serious violation within the academic community. While there are many conflicting perspectives on plagiarism—from its definition to the ethics surrounding it—they all boil down to the same rule: You cannot steal another person’s intellectual property.
Part of the research process is citing your sources properly, as this is the best way to avoid plagiarism. Not only does citation assure the readers that reputable sources back your ideas and help them locate your source material to read for themselves, but it also protects your integrity as a researcher. In addition, citation acknowledges any source that has influenced your opinions, conclusions, and arguments, giving proper credit to the original author.
Not citing will lead to plagiarism—a grave defiance of research ethics. If you’re submitting an essay to your university, it could lead to you failing your class, and if you’re submitting a paper for professional publication, it could seriously damage your reputation as an academic.
So, let’s get into the details of how to avoid plagiarism and the common examples of plagiarism that you need to steer clear of in your research papers.
The Definition of Plagiarism
For this article, we define plagiarism as taking ownership of someone else’s words or ideas within your research paper. Examples of plagiarism cover a wide range of media and formats, including, but not limited to, books, newspaper articles, websites, lectures, videos, and even music. There’s also self-plagiarism, which we’ll talk more about later on.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2004) defines plagiarism as an act “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”
Whether the texts are copied intentionally or not, plagiarism is always a form of stealing.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) does not cope well with plagiarism (pun intended), as they will see it as a direct threat to the values of the publication process. The COPE has even released guidelines and a flowchart to assist editors with what to do when they come across examples of plagiarism.
Their goals are to uphold the value of integrity in academia and develop good practices within the research community, and part of this is making sure all researchers know how to avoid plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a definite violation of the academic honour code. If you’re not honest with your output, plagiarism, even self-plagiarism, will result in consequences ranging from failing an assignment to expulsion from your academic institution. It’s a serious matter that could jeopardize your entire academic career, so it’s crucial that students know how to avoid plagiarism in their essays.
For example, Staley Library at Millikin University’s Preventing Plagiarism: A Guide for Students lists the offences they consider plagiarism. Similar rules are reflected across all institutions.
Citation: How to Avoid Plagiarism
While there are many simpler tips and tricks to avoid plagiarism, the best way to do so is by citing your sources. Citations serve three primary purposes in your research paper:
- Give credit where credit is due
- Allow readers to find the original source for further information
- Strengthen your credibility and honesty as a researcher
The exact parts of a citation will differ from one formatting style to another. However, they generally cover the following key elements:
- Who: The name of the writer, composer, or artist who is responsible for the work. They may have more than one contributor, especially for in-depth research papers. They may also be an institution, especially for government documents.
- What: The full title of the work to be cited.
- When: The date when the work was written. Typically, only the year of publication is required.
- Where: Additional places where the reader can find the referenced work. This information can either be the publication volume with page numbers, a URL link, or a digital object finder (DOI).
Let’s look at how citation is done within a research paper.
Citation as a Two-Part Process
Citation includes both in-text citing and the reference list. The former lists complete details of all sources at the end of your academic paper, while the latter appears within the body. They are written either as parenthetical notes or footnotes, depending on the format you’ve chosen or are required to use. Organisations and publications will vary in their citation rules.
For students, your instructor or teacher will likely give you the following formatting options:
- Modern Language Association (MLA) 8th Edition (2016)
- American Psychological Association (APA) 7th Edition (2020)
- Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) 18th Edition (2020)
Each citation style will have different rules that apply to both the reference list and in-text citations. MLA is often used for humanities and literary pieces; APA is commonly used for education, psychology, and the sciences; while CMOS is generally used for business, history, and fine arts.
Whichever one you pick, make sure you stay consistent throughout your research paper.
Here are examples of what APA citations would look like:
- Citation in the reference list:
Pont, C., Wagner, S., Kremer, A., Orlando, L., Plomion, C., & Salse, J. (2019). Paleogenomics: reconstruction of plant evolutionary trajectories from modern and ancient DNA. Genome Biology, 20(1), 29–17. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13059-019-1627-1
- In-text citation within the paper:
DNA sequences from subfossil remains can inform our understanding of modern plant genome organization (Pont et al., 2019).
Citing With Tools
If you find making reference lists and bibliographies difficult and time-consuming, there are many online tools available for you to use to avoid plagiarism.
Most of them offer individual services (e.g., reference management system, article summariser, and source formatting service), while tools such as Flowcite combine these abilities into one platform—including generating citations.
Here’s an example of the process in Flowcite:
- Search for your topic and find relevant sources in the Flowcite Library or third-party websites.
- Generate a summary of each source with the Article Summarizer to evaluate at a glance.
- Save, read, and organise any valuable references in your Project Library.
- Write your paper and add citations directly into the text using Flowcite’s Word Plugin.
- Flowcite automatically generates a bibliography or reference list with the click of a button.
Flowcite helps you find, collect, and organise your sources seamlessly. This way, you can spend the bulk of your time writing the actual content of your paper instead of worrying about possible plagiarism.
Other Citation Tips to Avoid Plagiarism
You might already be quoting and paraphrasing other journals and sources in your research paper. However, you’ll still need to do them correctly to avoid plagiarism. Here are some tips to guide you:
- Quoting your source: Avoid plagiarism by using quotation marks to cite the original reference word-for-word. Remember to follow the formatting requirements of your chosen citation style, as they will vary greatly. For example, CMOS recommends using either notes-bibliography or author-date citations.
Make sure that you use this method sparingly, as you want to establish yourself as the primary contributor to your research paper. Use quotations only when the source provides a well-formulated idea that directly supports your points.
- Paraphrasing the information: The alternative to direct quoting is paraphrasing or explaining someone else’s idea in your own words. Most general writers use this technique as an attempt to avoid committing plagiarism, especially when they need to pull information from multiple sources.
However, simply rewording or rearranging a text will not make it your own idea. Remember that plagiarism applies to both words and ideas. Ensure that you continue to cite the source from where you have borrowed or formulated your thought—even if you paraphrase.
Examples of Plagiarism
Plagiarism can come in all shapes and forms. Knowing the common types of plagiarism will guide you in effectively avoiding the violation. Below are examples of plagiarism that you should keep in mind:
Direct plagiarism is blatantly copying someone else’s words without using quotation marks or proper citations. This example of plagiarism is considered to be the most harmful, as it completely neglects the original source where it came from. Furthermore, once caught, the original writer can take legal and disciplinary actions against the plagiarist.
Complete plagiarism is similar to direct plagiarism; however, it refers to the act of copy-pasting the entire paper—not just parts. There is no word count specification that differentiates direct from complete plagiarism, as complete plagiarism refers to those who take the whole manuscript of another writer and submit it as their own. The severity of this form of plagiarism is just as serious, being equivalent to intellectual theft.
Auto- or Self-Plagiarism
Self-plagiarism happens when the researcher (often a student) tries to pass their previous work as a new submission. It can also occur if they resubmit without the permission of all the contributors or professors involved.
Simply put, self-plagiarism can either be a full duplicate or composite parts from previous works.
Here are the different variations of self-plagiarism:
- Duplicate publication: This violation refers to submitting identical manuscripts to more than one journal or class. This type of self-plagiarism is also called redundant publication.
- Augmented publication: This type of self-plagiarism happens when the researcher or student submits a paper largely based on previous work—only applying minimal changes such as changing the titles, the aim of the study, or recalculating the results.
In these cases, the editor may consider it under the following situations:
- If the writer only refers to their previous work
- If the methods cannot be written in any other way
- If the writer puts a disclaimer explaining that their publication is based on previously done research
- Segmented publication: When a writer uses the same original source for two or more papers, it’s considered a segmented self-plagiarism or “Salami-Sliced” publication. Readers or reviewers often point out these violations.
Editors will likely ask the writer to reasonably explain the connection of the segmented paper to their previous work. Again, the decision will be on the editor’s shoulders.
- Text recycling: Self-plagiarism also applies to writers who use large portions of their previous work in a new manuscript. Given the amount of text, standard plagiarism software can already detect this kind of plagiarism.
Mosaic plagiarism is often called “patchwriting,” as it refers to those who borrow the structure and points of the source author without using quotation marks. This example of plagiarism refers to those who merely paraphrase the original sentences (often even copy-pasting certain parts) while keeping the form and meaning intact. Mosaic plagiarism still applies if the writer mentions the source of the content they wrote about. However, it does not cite the quoted part properly—even if the source is included in the footnotes.
This example of plagiarism occurs when a writer references a source that is incorrect, misleading or does not exist. Source-based plagiarism also includes the practice of using secondary sources without citing the primary source of information. These are all dishonest methods to increase the number of reference sources and citations without any factual basis.
Data Fabrication Plagiarism
Also called falsification, data fabrication is considered an example of plagiarism in the research community. This practice includes altering data by omission or false impression. Particularly in the medical field, this type of plagiarism is considered a grave violation, as it will likely affect clinical decisions in the industry.
This type of plagiarism is also called misleading attribution, where the writer does one of the following:
- Credit is not given to a contributor of the manuscript, or the other way around, where credit was given to an individual who did not actually contribute anything.
- Substantive changes are done to the manuscript by an editor who is not acknowledged. All contributors—not just the authors—need to be identified at the time of publication.
All of these variations are considered a form of inaccurate authorship, which is an example of plagiarism.
Flowcite: The All-in-One Platform to Write Without Worrying
The fear of committing plagiarism may be overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be. There is a solution for you to write your research paper without worrying about violating the rules.
That solution is a tool called Flowcite.
Flowcite is a platform that’s fully integrated with proofreading services by Scribendi and Enago, along with marketing-leading similarity checks by Unicheck and iThenticate (a Turnitin company):
With Flowcite, you can express and present your findings without the headache of avoiding plagiarism.
Moreover, Flowcite has everything researchers and students need to create professional, ready-to-publish papers in one place. We’ve simplified every stage of the researching, writing, and publishing with our end-to-end academic writing services, including:
- A reference management tool that enables you to find and save relevant references and citations, easily inserting them into your paper with a single click
- Interchangeable LaTeX, Word, and Rich Text editors for you and your peers to individually work with the text editor of their choice
- Real-time collaboration tools that allow you and your colleagues or students to comment, share and edit papers simultaneously
- An AI-driven article summariser service that provides AI-generated summaries of academic papers for source evaluation in less than a minute
- Integrated proofreading, peer review, and publishing services for polishing your paper in full compliance with publication rules
In other words, Flowcite consolidates your entire workflow in one platform, saving you from spending too much time on the mundane side of researching—referencing, formatting, and proofreading.
Sign up for Flowcite today to get started on a seamless, stress-free research writing process!
Content Marketing Strategist
Brittany is a Content Marketing Strategist at Flowcite, and an outstanding academic writing expert. She holds a first-class Honours degree in Literae Humaniores from the University of Oxford and has been certified in Digital Marketing Analytics by the MIT Sloan School of Management.