How to avoid plagiarism

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If you find a WikiDoc chapter which you believe contains plagiarized content, please contact the WikiDoc Plagiarism Hotline (617-632-7590) or email All concerns or comments can be given anonymously. If the content you have contributed is identified as having been plagarized from another source, you will be removed as an editor from the page.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without giving credit. If you only make small changes to the text, even if you cite your source, you may still be guilty of plagiarizing. Intentional or unintentional, plagiarism is a very serious issue with possible legal consequences.

How Can Plagiarism Be Avoided?

  1. Always cite your sources
  2. If a source is copyrighted, you must summarize content in your own words in addition to citing the source you used.
  3. For copyleft sources, you may copy directly in addition to citing the source you used. However, please note that the person who posted the content originally to a copyleft source may have plagiarized another original source!
  4. Create content using original words and sentence structure. Simply changing a few words in a sentence may not be sufficient defense against a claim of plagiarism.
  5. Search engines are your friend. You can always search the internet to ascertain whether the material you have was taken directly from somewhere else.
  6. When in doubt, ask! Please contact us [1] with any questions regarding plagiarism or the principles of copyleft and copyright. If you see any content in WikiDoc that you believe violates a copyright or constitutes an act of plagiarism, please let us know. Please also see WikiDoc's disclaimers.

Guidelines for Avoiding Plagiarism

The following guidelines are taken directly from "Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing" by Miquel Roig [1].

  • Guideline 1: An ethical writer ALWAYS acknowledges the contributions of others and the source of his/her ideas.
  • Guideline 2: Any verbatim text taken from another author must be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • Guideline 3: We must always acknowledge every source that we use in our writing; whether we paraphrase it, summarize it, or enclose it quotations.
  • Guideline 4: When we summarize, we condense, in our own words, a substantial amount of material into a short paragraph or perhaps even into a sentence.
  • Guideline 5: Whether we are paraphrasing or summarizing we must always identify the source of your information.
  • Guideline 6: When paraphrasing and/or summarizing others’ work we must reproduce the exact meaning of the other author’s ideas or facts using our words and sentence structure.
  • Guideline 7: In order to make substantial modifications to the original text that result in a proper paraphrase, the author must have a thorough understanding of the ideas and terminology being used.
  • Guideline 8: A responsible writer has an ethical responsibility to readers, and to the author/s from whom s/he is borrowing, to respect others’ ideas and words, to credit those from whom we borrow, and whenever possible, to use one’s own words when paraphrasing.
  • Guideline 9: When in doubt as to whether a concept or fact is common knowledge, provide a citation.
  • Guideline 10: Authors who submit a manuscript for publication containing data, reviews, conclusions, etc. that have already been disseminated in some significant manner (e.g. published as an article in another journal, presented at a conference, posted on the internet) must clearly indicate to the editors and readers the nature of the previous dissemination.
  • Guideline 11: Authors of complex studies should heed the advice previously put forth by Angell & Relman (1989). If the results of a single complex study are best presented as a ‘cohesive’ single whole, they should not be partitioned into individual papers. Furthermore, if there is any doubt as to whether a paper submitted for publication represents fragmented data, authors should enclose other papers (published or unpublished) that might be part of the paper under consideration (Kassirer & Angell, 1995). Similarly, old data that have been merely augmented with additional data points and that are subsequently presented as a new study can be an equally serious ethical breach.
  • Guideline 12: Because some instances of plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and even some writing practices that might otherwise be acceptable (e.g., extensive paraphrasing or quoting of key elements of a book) can constitute copyright infringement, authors are strongly encouraged to become familiar with basic elements of copyright law.
  • Guideline 13: While there are some situations where text recycling is an acceptable practice, it may not be so in other situations. Authors are urged to adhere to the spirit of ethical writing and avoid reusing their own previously published text, unless it is done in a manner consistent with standard scholarly conventions (e.g., by using of quotations and proper paraphrasing).
  • Guideline 14: Authors are strongly urged to double-check their citations. Specifically, authors should always ensure that each reference notation appearing in the body of the manuscript corresponds to the correct citation listed in the reference section and vice versa and that each source listed in the reference section has been cited at some point in the manuscript. In addition, authors should also ensure that all elements of a citation (e.g., spelling of authors’ names, volume number of journal, pagination) are derived directly from the original paper, rather than from a citation that appears on a secondary source. Finally, authors should ensure that credit is given to those authors who first reported the phenomenon being studied.
  • Guideline 15: The references used in a paper should only be those that are directly related to its contents. The intentional inclusion of references of questionable relevance for purposes of manipulating a journal’s or a paper’s impact factor or a paper’s chances of acceptance is an unacceptable practice.
  • Guideline 16: Authors should follow a simple rule: Strive to obtain the actual published paper. When the published paper cannot be obtained, cite the specific version of the material being used, whether it is conference presentation, abstract, or an unpublished manuscript.
  • Guideline 17: Generally, when describing others’ work, do not rely on a secondary summary of that work. It is a deceptive practice, reflects poor scholarly standards, and can lead to a flawed description of the work described. Always consult the primary literature.
  • Guideline 18: If an author must rely on a secondary source (e.g., textbook) to describe the contents of a primary source (e.g., an empirical journal article), s/he should consult writing manuals used in her discipline to follow the proper convention to do so. Above all, always indicate the actual source of the information being reported.
  • Guideline 19: When borrowing heavily from a source, authors should always craft their writing in a way that makes clear to readers, which ideas are their own and which are derived from the source being consulted.
  • Guideline 20: When appropriate, authors have an ethical responsibility to report evidence that runs contrary to their point of view. In addition, evidence that we use in support of our position must be methodologically sound. When citing supporting studies that suffer from methodological, statistical, or other types of shortcomings, such flaws must be pointed out to the reader.
  • Guideline 21: Authors have an ethical obligation to report all aspects of the study that may impact the independent replicability of their research.
  • Guideline 22: Researchers have an ethical responsibility to report the results of their studies according to their a priori plans. Any post hoc manipulations that may alter the results initially obtained, such as the elimination of outliers or the use of alternative statistical techniques must be clearly described along with an acceptable rationale for using such techniques.
  • Guideline 23: Authorship determination should be discussed prior to commencing a research collaboration and should be based on established guidelines, such as those of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.
  • Guideline 24: Only those individuals who have made substantitve contributions to a project merit authorship in a paper.
  • Guideline 25: Faculty-student collaborations should follow the same criteria to establish authorship. Mentors must exercise great care to neither award authorship to students whose contributions do not merit it, nor to deny authorship and due credit to the work of students.
  • Guideline 26: Academic or professional ghost authorship in the sciences is ethically unacceptable.

What Does Copyleft Mean?

Copyleft is a principle whereby information is available for anyone to copy, modify, or redistribute, as long as the new version

  1. Grants the same freedoms to others
  2. Acknowledges the original authors of the content

You can copy and paste directly from copyleft material as long as your work follows the two rules above.

Where Can I Find Copyleft Material?

  1. Wikis: All wikimedia projects (including WikiDoc and Wikipedia) that operate under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) 3.0 license are governed by this principle.
  2. Public domain information: All information on public domain website (.gov)
  3. One important exception is the National Guidelines Clearinghouse. Although the site states that the content is free for you to use and distribute, the copyright of the society or entity that originally created the guidelines must be respected. Therefore, large sections of background materials from guidelines content from these societies should not be distributed without their permission.

What About Other Websites or Journal Articles that Are Copyrighted?

If a source is copyrighted (whether a journal article or a popular medical site), you are LEGALLY PROHIBITED FROM COPYING IT WITHOUT PERMISSION! Simply changing or adding a few words does not absolve the fact that you are stealing someone else's words and ideas.


  1. Roig, M. Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing. St Johns University. 03/12/2009.

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