The Easiest Way to Avoid Plagiarism -->

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The Easiest Way to Avoid Plagiarism

As you can tell from this post’s title, this week, I want to share with you the easiest way to avoid plagiarism in your writing. Here it is:

Don’t copy and paste. Ever. (Click to tweet)

That’s your advice?” You might be thinking. “I learned that in [insert childhood school grade here.]”

Yes, that’s my advice. I’m not talking about obviously and intentionally cheating by copying an entire paper off the internet and passing it off as your own, though. What I’m talking about is a poor note-taking and writing practice that can result in committing accidental plagiarism.

Copy and Paste baby t-shirts
These babies are cute, but copied and pasted text in your paper is not.

Why Copying and Pasting is a Bad Idea

I say that never copying and pasting is the best way to avoid plagiarism because copying and pasting is perhaps the easiest way to plagiarize, both intentionally and unintentionally. With practically infinite online resources a mouse click away, taking notes from sources is simpler than it used to be, and it’s tempting to copy and paste text from a source into your notes or paper and think, I just want to save this information for now—I’ll paraphrase it later. You might copy and paste a paragraph, or a sentence, or even a phrase. This practice is dangerous. I’ve often heard students say about copied and pasted (in other words, plagiarized) text in their papers, “Oh, shoot, I meant to go back later and paraphrase that,” and “OhI thought those were my words. I forgot they came from someone else,” and “But I cited my source. I thought that was enough.” Sound familiar?

Paraphrase As You Go

Many writers want to complete their research and note-taking before beginning to write. Writing should be a part of the note-taking process, however. Paraphrasing as you go, meaning as you take notes or as you start to write your paper (if you’re not a note-taker), is one of the best methods of ensuring that you're using your own words and voice and that you’re not accidentally representing someone else’s carefully crafted text as your own. If you cite as you go (which I also strongly recommend), you’ll be in a really good position to avoid plagiarism.

Through reviewing papers in physical courses, online courses, and Walden's Writing Center, I've seen countless times how copying and pasting can easily lead to a paper that not only contains plagiarism but that also doesn’t present critical thinking or the writer’s voice clearly. If you follow this one simple rule of never copying and pasting, I am confident that you will strengthen your writing. Try paraphrasing as you go with your next paper or discussion post, and check out our effective strategies for additional help. 

If you have other tips or questions, share them in the comments!


Anne Shiell
is a writing instructor and the coordinator of social media resources for the Writing Center. Anne also produces WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I just completed a paper and it gave me a 30% plagiarism and I did not copy anyone's work and gave everyone credit. I was summarizing studies and at the beginning of each study, I gave the author and the year and commence to write about the author found. When they referred to others in their notes, I copied their references too. At the end, all the people's names I placed in my paper showed that it was plagiarized. I don't understand. I thought if I wrote the paper as if it was my ideas and did not give credit to the author that was plagiarizing. Now I am completely confused and I am about ready to give up in writing. I did not use the internet other than to pull up materials from the library.
    What is your advice?

    1. Hi, Mary. Thanks for your questions! Tools like Turnitin (which I assume you're using) can be really helpful for students to check their use of source information and citations, but do keep in mind that they are technologies that are not perfect, and ultimately you'll be the best judge of whether or not your writing needs revision. Turnitin matches text from other sources, including reference entries, citations, and direct quotations. Even if these pieces of your paper are perfectly fine, a Turnitin will still flag them as *matches* to bring them to your attention so that you can check them for plagiarism. Does that make sense? So, you might have a paper that has a similarity index percentage greater than 0 but still not have any plagiarism.

      One other note: When you cite a source in your paper, that indicates to readers that *you* read that source yourself. So, be sure that you only cite sources in your paper that you have read, rather than reading a source (Source A, for example) and then citing the sources that Source A used. If you want to use the information from the sources that Source A used, you'll need to either find those original sources (which is preferred), or use a secondary source citation ( see more here:

      Don't give up, Mary! Let us know if you have further questions!

    2. Hey Markus! Your comment is so mysterious! Do you have a question we can try to answer?

  3. The same happen to me even I put my references. For example when I get information about an infection I write CDC.n.d and in my references Center the Disease Control and Prevention.(n.d) the title . retrieved from www..... and then they said it is a plagiarism. I am confused. So what they want me to do then.

    1. It sounds like you could be referring to two things that can happen, so we'll go over both!

      First, if you include information from a source (like the CDC) in your writing and you quote it properly by putting the sentence in quotation marks and citing it, Turnitin will still highlight this. That's because Turnitin only identifies wording that is the same as in other pieces of writing. It can't tell that you have properly quoted and cited it. So yes, quotes will be highlighted. As long as you have quotation marks and a citation, it isn't plagiarism. You will want to keep the number of quotes low overall, as an essay that is filled with quotes isn't a representation of YOUR writing.

      Second, Turnitin will often highlight your reference list. That's because sources are used over and over by many writers (especially if the source is very good!). Ignore any highlighting on your reference list. While this will make your percentage higher, it also is not plagiarism.

      I hope that helps!