The concept of self-plagiarism is controversial, and it essentially involves reusing your own work. Long a gray area of the academic world because it lacks an obvious victim, it can lead to serious legal and copyright issues when published.
Learn all about self-plagiarism and how to properly address and cite your work below.
Plagiarism is the theft of someone else’s work without citation and can range from stolen ideas to clear-cut copy-pasting of text. Self-plagiarism, by contrast, is the copying of your own work.1
This can occur in the following ways:
- Resubmitting an essay or paper for a class.
- Copy-pasting passages from a previously submitted work.
- Reusing data and research findings.
- Publishing the same work in multiple articles.
This is an issue because it is misleading. It presents old work as new and, as such, is unethical. That doesn’t mean you can’t either expand on or simply reference your previous work – just cite it correctly.
How to avoid plagiarism: Is it so important?
Plagiarism can severely impact your academic career as you will be effectively stealing intellectual property. This amounts to cheating and is extremely unethical.
As a student, this act can lead to low grades, outright failure of a course, or suspension and expulsion from the institution. Therefore, you need to know how to avoid plagiarism.
How to avoid plagiarism: 5 Methods
To learn how to avoid plagiarism, you should follow these tips.
Keeping track of your sources
Keeping track of your sources is a great tip on how to avoid plagiarism.
- To avoid making this mistake, you should maintain notes on the sources you used for your research.
- Make sure you compile the list as you go on with your work, and you can even organize them in different colors.
- A certain color can be used to indicate a direct quote, and another can indicate claims that will require citation.
- To make it easier to organize your sources, you can use reference management software.1
How to avoid plagiarism: Quoting
Another great tip on how to avoid plagiarism is to use quotes. In this case, you will have to use the exact words of the author and include quotation marks. If the quote is long, you should use block quotes.
Here are some instances where you should use quotation marks to avoid plagiarism:
- When you’re unable to paraphrase the text without affecting its meaning
- When you need to evaluate the terms or language used by the author
- When you need to keep the author’s style and authority
- If you want to use the author’s definition2
Here is a wrong way of using the quote:
It is clear that change will not come if we wait for other people or other times. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Here is the correct way:
It is clear that ‘change will not come if we wait’ for other people or other times. ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for’ (Obama, 2012).
How to avoid plagiarism: Paraphrasing
Paraphrasing involves using your own words to explain someone else’s ideas.
Many students are tempted to simply change some words in the sentence, as this can beat plagiarism checkers. However, this is the wrong way to paraphrase and still counts as plagiarism.
Instead, you have to reformulate the sentence. You can also combine ideas from different sources into one sentence.
Take a look at the following example:
Wrongly paraphrased text:
Adolf Hitler was a great speaker and could easily convince people to support him. The country had lots of moderate political parties, but these were divided and had trouble standing up to Hitler. He was also able to ascend to power because of the economic turmoil of 1929.
Correctly paraphrased text:
Adolf Hitler was able to take control of Germany because of various reasons. These include the increased poverty following the 1929 depression, his public speaking skills, and the division among moderate parties in Germany.
How to avoid plagiarism: Citing sources correctly
It is important to cite sources used for your paper, as this allows readers to locate the source if they want to learn more about the topic.
You should cite your sources whenever you quote or paraphrase the original text. This could be done with:
- in-text citations
- footnote citations
- reference lists
There are many citation styles you can use, and the most popular are APA, MLA, and Chicago. You should stick to a single citation style throughout your paper. Also, make sure you check whether your professor requires you to use a particular citation style.2
How to avoid plagiarism: Plagiarism checker
Plagiarism checkers use advanced database software to check for matches between your academic paper and existing texts. Using a plagiarism checker will ensure that you don’t commit accidental plagiarism.
Here are a few issues that might lead to accidental plagiarism:
- Failing to cite your sources
- Accidentally using the same group of words when paraphrasing texts
- Wrongly quoting your sources
- Using the same words when summarizing an idea
How to avoid plagiarism: Checklist
Follow these tips if you want to learn how to avoid plagiarism in academic writing:
- Make sure all cited sources are included in the bibliography or reference list
- Use quotation marks when you use the same words as the author
- Paraphrase longer quotes or use block quotation marks to quote the author directly
- Avoid changing individual words in a sentence when paraphrasing, and instead change the sentence structure
- Use a plagiarism checkers to avoid accidental plagiarism
- Keep track of your sources
- Check whether you have committed self-plagiarism by using your previously published works
Yes, it is possible to plagiarize another person’s work accidentally, and that is why you need to use a plagiarism checker.
Quotes should be used sparingly in academic writing, and they are mostly used in cases where paraphrasing can be difficult.
You should learn how to avoid plagiarism since this action can result in low grades or even expulsion from school.
Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s works and passing them off as your own.
1 Sweetland Center for Writing. “Keeping Track of Sources.” Beyond Plagiarism; Best Practices for the Responsible Use of Sources. Accessed March 14, 2023. https://www.beyondplagiarism.sweetland.lsa.umich.edu/for-students/finding-sources/keeping-track-of-sources/.
2 The University of ARI. “APA: Formatting Your Reference List.” Writing Center. Accessed March 14, 2023. https://writingcenter.uagc.edu/format-your-reference-list.