Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

Avoid these plagiarism pitfalls

It is possible to commit plagiarism even when you do provide citations for your sources. Writing with integrity requires more than just frequent source citations; it also requires writing in a way that clearly, consistently, and honestly distinguishes between your own writing and the original source.

Students commonly commit plagiarism by slipping into one of these pitfalls:

1. Using distinctive language from the source without acknowledgement, even if it is not an exact quotation.

2. Copying the structure of the source while changing some of its words, or by combining words and phrases taken from a source with their own words without indicating which is which.

3. Incomplete acknowledgement. If you provide a source citation but do not indicate fully and accurately which words come from that source, you are taking credit for another author's words, and you are plagiarizing. (See "Quote your sources accurately" for more tips on how to quote your sources accurately.)

These first three kinds of plagiarism are often called "mosaic plagiarism."

4. Failing to acknowledge the intermediate source. Good citations should tell the reader not just where information or words originally appeared, but where you found them. If you cite a source you have not actually read, by giving a citation for that source that really comes from another (intermediate) source, you are falsely taking credit for research that someone else has done. This kind of mistake is sometimes called "citation plagiarism." There is some disagreement about whether this should be considered plagiarism, strictly speaking, but it is certainly a poor practice and should be avoided.

These mistakes may be careless rather than deliberate, but they still constitute plagiarism. As a college student, you are responsible for knowing how to avoid plagiarism of all kinds.

The next sections illustrate these four common plagiarism pitfalls and how to avoid them.