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Attributing Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism: Avoiding Plagiarism/Guidelines for Attribution

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism = using ideas and phrases of others as if they were your own, without attribution-- that is, without citing the sources on which you based your paper or presentation.

Many respected scholars have been embarrassed by charges of plagiarism due to sloppy note taking, inappropriate paraphrasing, or simply forgetting to list a citation or insert an "in text" reference. Don't let this happen to you! The consequences can be severe, including a failing grade, delayed graduation, or worse!

Online journals and scholarly web sites are so convenient to use, however, they make it all too tempting to copy and paste a snippet here and a paragraph there, often resulting in a hodge podge of disconnected information. You may even forget that the sentences you copied are not your own, but those of another author.

The best thing we have to say about plagiarism is Don't Do It!

Fortunately for us, Plagiarism's virtuous twin is Attribution.

Review guidelines in the next column to learn about Attribution, then work with your study group to identify instances in the "First Draft" of our sample essay where the author has failed to attribute her sources appropriately.

Guidelines for Attribution

Averett professors require you to attribute sources (1) because attribution is fair and ethical, and (2) so people who read your work can view the sources you cite and decide whether they agree with your interpretation ... or simply learn more about the topic.

Use these guidelines to Attribute sources and Avoid Plagiarism in your papers and presentations:

  • Save complete citations for every source that gives you an idea or information related to your topic.
    • Saving or printing the full text of the source is very wise at this point. Read each article or chapter at least once before citing it in your paper or presentation.
    • Citing a paragraph without reading the whole document is an insult to your source, and risky for your reputation! Your professor will know when you do not understand what the author was trying to communicate.
  • Cite the source for every idea, phrase and statistic you use from the work of others:
    • In text reference:
      Cats rule (Jones, 2013).
    • References:
      Jones, T. (2013). Feline personality traits. A Pet Journal, 21(4), 12-24.
    • Each "in text" reference matches a full citation in your bibliography ("References" in APA style).
    • "In text" references are very simple, with just enough information to identify a specific source: 
      (Jones, 2013, April 3).
    • For data and direct quotes include a location (page number) in the source document, for example:
      (Jones, 2013, p. 5).
  • Illustrate your narrative with brief quotations and paraphrases from your sources.
    • No more than about 10% - 30% of your paper should consist of quotes. Readers want to know your perspective on the topic.
  • Do not cite sources for information that is "common knowledge." You are also not required to cite sources for your own work.
  • Learn something about each author you cite, especially his or her affiliation and area of specialty.
    • Be aware that your sources are real people ... some of them may be a little wacky!
    • Specialists who have studied a subject for many years recognize the last names and first initials of colleagues who publish in scholarly journals. Professors do not expect you, as a new student in the field to recognize reliable sources based on citations alone. You may be able to determine the author's affiliation from the abstract in a database ... and nearly always from the full text of the publication.
    • If you have doubts about reliability of a particular source, ask a specialist before including it in your work.