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13.1: Avoiding Plagiarism Through Ethical Attribution

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    What is Plagiarism?

    Plagiarism is using another thinker's words or ideas without giving them credit. In most essays, this means you use someone else's words or ideas without citing them. Other examples of plagiarism include:

    • Submitting an essay written by someone else, in whole or in part
    • Copying and pasting from another source without citing them
    • Attempting to cite sources, but doing so incorrectly or in a way where it is unclear which ideas came from your mind and which came from other sources
    • Correctly citing all sources, but most of your essay is made up of the words and ideas of others with very little of your own original ideas
    • Re-using an essay you wrote in a previous class without instructor permission

    Video: What is Plagiarism? by Excelsior OWL

    Video Transcript

    What are the Consequences of Plagiarism?

    Most academics consider plagiarism a serious violation of academic honesty. Basically, by plagiarizing, you are betraying the trust of your instructor, peers, and institution. Consequences for plagiarism can include:

    In most cases, copyright holders will not go after students because students tend not to have a lot of money laying around. That being said, plagiarism can still have serious consequences. Students should avoid plagiarism at all costs.

    The consequences of plagiarism depend on many factors, including:

    • The severity of the plagiarism
    • Repeated plagiarism behavior
    • Your instructor
    • The course syllabus, which often describes the class policies and consequences for plagiarism
    • Your college
    • Your college's student handbook, which often describes the campus policies and consequences for plagiarism

    Be sure to consult with your instructor and college about their policies on plagiarism.

    How Can Students Avoid Plagiarism?

    There are many different tactics for avoiding plagiarism.

    1. Do your own work specifically for the class or context you're writing for. Your instructor wants to read your ideas. They want to see you engaging with the course materials. The writing you produce for a given class should reflect your learning in that class.
    2. Ask for help and use your resources. A lot of times students plagiarize because they are stressed/running short on time/have a legitimate extenuating life circumstance that got in the way of their writing process/left an assignment to the last minute due to procrastination. They might plagiarize out of desperation. In situations like these, it is better to email your professor and explain the situation and/or ask for an extension than to plagiarize. If you're struggling on an assignment, visit your instructor's office hours or your campus writing center to get support.
    3. Use secondary sources to support your argument, not comprise it. A lot of students new to a given writing context feel imposter syndrome. They do not feel confident in themselves or their knowledge, so they defer to experts like scholars who wrote on the topic. Unfortunately, this often means the student's smart ideas and writing voice can get smothered by secondary sources! Your instructor doesn't want to read what Famous Scholar X wrote on a topic. If they wanted to read that, they could go read that scholar's work themselves. Rather, they want to read how YOU engaged with the topic! While the expected ratio of your words to other sources will vary depending on the context of your writing situation, usually aim for 80-90% your original ideas, arguments, analysis, and explanation and 10-20% summary, quotation, and paraphrase from sources.
    4. Use Summary, Quotation, and Paraphrase with intention. Summary generally works to show engagement with main ideas in a given discourse. Quotation is usually used to show specific wording or concepts for deeper analysis. Paraphrase works to convey basic facts or data that you put into your own words. For all three types of engagement with secondary sources, be sure to include in-text citations! It should always be clear which ideas are yours and which belong to your sources.
      1. See Summary, Quotation, and Paraphrase resource for more on this topic!
    5. Practice Ethical Attribution by citing all sources both in-text AND on the Works Cited page
      1. Caveat: You don't have to cite common knowledge. Common knowledge is usually comprised of obvious or general information that your audience is likely to know already. For example, you probably wouldn't need to cite that the President of the United States is Joe Biden [or whoever the current President is as you are reading this], since most people in your audience (depending on the context) probably know this information. But you would likely have to cite statistics about his approval rating, since most of your audience probably doesn't know this information off the top of their heads. What an audience knows or doesn't know depends on the audience and context, so you'll have to think critically about your audience.

    How to Avoid Plagiarism

    Video by Excelsior OWL

    Video Transcript

    What is Ethical Attribution?

    Ethical attribution is giving credit to those whose words and ideas you use in your essays. In most MLA-style essays, ethical attribution has three parts: attributive tags, in-text parenthetical citations, and a Works Cited page to give credit. (In other disciplines' citations and formatting styles, the Works Cited page might be called a References page or Bibliography).

    Attributive Tags

    Attributive Tags signal to the reader that material from a source is about to appear in the essay.

    Example: According to literary critic Harold Bloom....

    In-Text Citations

    In-Text Parenthetical Citations tell the reader that the words or ideas from the source have ended. It also tells the reader where to find the original source information on the Works Cited page so they can see the original source themselves

    Example: According to the literary critic Harold Bloom, "we are certain from the start that he is indeed King Hamlet's spirit," and not a demon as Horatio seems to suggest (Bloom 4).

    Works Cited page

    The Works Cited page gives more in-depth bibliographical information so that readers can find the original source. It appears at the end of the essay, on the last page. It should include all sources referenced in the essay.


    Works Cited

    Bloom, Harold. Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. New York: Riverhead, 2003.

    Why Use Ethical Attribution?

    There are several reasons to use ethical attribution

    • Builds Ethos. By citing sources, you build credibility and trust with your audience. Readers are able to find the sources you cite. You also improve your essay's scholarly tone by using the formal conventions used by literary scholars, which include in-text and Works Cited citations.
    • Helps You Refine Your Own Ideas. By clearly defining which ideas are your original ideas and which belong to other authors, you are better able to refine your ideas.
    • Helps You Avoid Plagiarism. By citing sources correctly, you avoid plagiarism and its consequences.

    Activity: Check Your Understanding of Plagiarism

    Quiz from Excelsior OWL


    This page titled 13.1: Avoiding Plagiarism Through Ethical Attribution is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .