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HIST 460: History Research Seminar Course Guide: Plagiarism

A course guide for students in HIST 460, the History Research Seminar

Common Forms of Plagiarism

  • Leaving out quotation marks when quoting a source text, even if you supply a citation.
  • Paraphrasing ideas, theories, or arguments from a source text without an appropriate citation.
  • Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
  • Buying a paper from a research service, term paper mill, or classmate.

How Do I Avoid Plagiarism?

Give credit whenever you use:

  • another person's idea, opinion, or theory
  • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings, photographs -- any pieces of information -- that are not  common knowledge
  • quotations of another person's actual spoken or written words
  • a paraphrase of another person's spoken or written words

The only time you do not have to give credit to source material is when it provides you with ‘common knowledge’ facts.

Avoiding Plagiarism: Tips

  • When taking notes, put noticeable quotation marks around any direct quotes.
  • If you paraphrase in your notes, be sure that it is a true paraphrase, not just moving a few words around.
  • Always include the page number when you take notes – even if you paraphrase.
  • Cite every piece of information that is not a) the result of your own research, or b) common knowledge.
  • Make it clear at the beginning of sentences that what comes next is someone else's idea:
    • According to Smith...
    • Jones says...
    • In his 1987 study, Robinson proved...
  • When in doubt, provide a citation.

What is Plagiarism?

Deliberate plagiarism is when you present someone else’s work as your own. Whether you’re copy and pasting text from a website, stealing a friend’s paper, quoting without citation, or summarizing unique ideas without giving credit, it’s plagiarism.

Accidental plagiarism happens when writers fail to write complete, correct citations, or when they don’t understand what they must cite. The tips on this sheet should help you uncover citation rules that can help prevent accidental plagiarism.

When Do I Have to Cite?

Common knowledge refers to facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people. You don’t need to cite sources for these facts.

Because the following is a commonly known fact, it doesn’t need to be cited:

John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960. 


In the following, you do need to cite your source (even though you did not quote directly) because the idea that "Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation" is an interpretation of facts:

According the American Family Leave Coalition's new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation (6).

There is no strict definition of common knowledge – you’ll have to use your own judgment. Can you find the information in many sources? Are a lot of people likely to know it? Then it’s common knowledge.


Quotations are when you use someone's exact words.  When you quote, place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and document the source according to a standard documentation style (MLA, APA, etc). The following is a correctly cited quotation:

According to Peter S. Pritchard in USA Today, "Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young" (14).


Paraphrasing means using someone's ideas, but putting them in your own words.  This is probably the skill you will use most when incorporating sources into your writing – and it’s the easiest way to accidentally plagiarize.  Although you use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge the source of the information. Think of it as citing the ideas rather than the text.

If Pritchard says “Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young” you are plagiarising if you write:

Public schools need to be reformed, but we can’t replace public schools’ roles of teaching youth in the United States. 


Credit Pritchard and use new words and a new sentence structure, and you can avoid plagiarizing. This is correct paraphrasing:

Pritchard admits that public schools are the best approach to educating children in America, despite his demand to improve the system (14).

A paraphrase should contain all of the author's information and none of your own commentary. Even if you have avoided using the author's words, sentence structure, or style, an unattributed paraphrase is plagiarism because it presents another person’s ideas as your own. Be sure to keep your own ideas separate from the ideas you get from another person.