Preventing Plagiarism


This site was a collaborative one-time project completed in 2017. Content was last updated in 2018 and many of the original content creators are no longer at RIT. For up to date support reach out to the appropriate department for your specific need: Academic Success Center, Center for Teaching & Learning, Faculty Career Development Team, RIT Libraries, University Writing Program.

Best Practices

Planning out how you are going to conduct and record your research can help you avoid plagiarizing. Conducting organized and planned research can help keep you from panicking and making bad choices when doing a project or writing a paper.

When searching for articles keep an easy to access list of the databases and resources you searched. Track the dates you searched as well as the keywords or phrases you used. A spreadsheet of dates, databases and terms searched over the course of your research can act as a nice visual tool for recalling and sharing the steps you took in gathering your research.

Keep all of the articles, book chapters, web pages and other items you referenced in your paper so you can quickly and easily retrieve them if needed. Choose a storage method (print or digital). Also select a way to organize the material that helps you know where items are if you need to quickly pull them. You might choose to organize by author last name, article title or by theme. The key is to be ready to retrieve the article quickly if you are asked by the professor to see it.

How you take and keep notes can also help you avoid plagiarism. Before you start your research choose a singular method for notetaking and keep all your notes in one place. First decide if your notetaking will be done via digital or paper methods. Keep in mind that you are less likely to plagiarize if you take notes by hand and you will have much better recall of the ideas you take notes on.

Do not take notes inside of your paper. Though it is tempting, doing so is one of the easiest ways to become a plagiarist. It is too easy to forget that the sentence you pasted into your paper is not your own idea. If you do choose to take notes inside of your paper, change the color of text that you paste into the document so that you know it is not your own idea. Also be sure to make the citation immediately so you do not forget where the information came from.

One of the best ways to start your notetaking is to print out the articles and take your first set of notes in the margins of the article near the idea or fact you are using. You will then have a quick connection to the idea you are paraphrasing. You can then move the notes from multiple articles onto index cards or another tool where you can organize them by the themes of the paper. When moving notes from an article make sure you grab the article information and the page numbers or paragraph numbers for all the ideas, direct quotes and items you extract. This will make it easier for you to locate the ideas if you are questioned about their origin.

When writing your paper make sure you keep all of your drafts. Use the SAVE AS function at the end of each daily iteration so you can show a trail of drafts. These will demonstrate the evolution of your thinking as you wrote the paper. One suggestion is to name each iteration the day and time you saved it along with the main idea of the paper. For example, a paper on ethics saved March 4 at 2:15pm might be named ethics4mar2:15pm. The next day it can be worked on and added to and then at the end of the day it can be saved as ethics5mar8:30pm. If you are questioned about the originality of your paper you will have a trail of documents demonstrating your work over time.

Most word processors have a REVIEW feature. Use this to leave notes for yourself as you write the paper. Papers are often written in sections in a non-sequential order. Use the REVIEW feature to leave yourself notes such as “insert proper citation” or “find article with this idea” or “get a better source for this” or “paraphrase this, don’t use a direct quote” or “locate correct spelling of article author.”

Be prepared to defend your paper verbally. If you actually wrote the paper you should know the contents, themes and internal logic inside and out. Be prepared to defend the originality of the paper by demonstrating through conversation that you understand the contents and your analysis. Taking notes by hand can help you be prepared. Students who take notes by hand have better recall than students who use computers. [1]

Use the resources available to you! Librarians can help with research and citation know-how, the University Writing Commons can help with writing and paraphrasing, and the Academic Support Center can help with academic coaching.  For more information, please see the page of Additional Resources.

Helpful Tips and Tricks

  • Start your writing assignment early!  When you delay you are more likely to cut corners and overlook important steps in the writing process.
  • Save electronic copies of each article you read.  This helps you quickly know whether the words you are using are yours or someone else’s.  PDFs are easily searchable.
  • Breadcrumbs.  Keep a paper or electronic trail of all your sources and their citations.  This is best achieved using a citation manager.  Also keep your outlines and your drafts to show the evolution of your thoughts and your writing.
  • Use the “research notes” section of EndNote or similar citation management software to make notes to yourself about what is most important about the article you are reading as you are reading it.  Begin paraphrasing here.
  • Just because you found information freely available on the Internet does not mean you are free to use it without citing.
  • Know what not to cite.  Common, factual information known to all does not need to be cited.
  • Don’t cut and paste.   Unless you are using a direct quote from an article, never copy and paste.  Your own words or a summary or paraphrase (with proper citation) will serve you best.
  • Quotation marks are your friends.   When in doubt, cite.  When you simply cannot say it better yourself, quote directly.

[1] Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over the laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-68.