Plagiarism in the Classroom Prevention rather than Detection

One of the pitfalls of writing a paper is stumbling into plagiarism.  There are formats set up to help students prevent that.  The two most widely used are MLA, or Modern Language Association and APA, or American Psychological Association.

These formats tell you how to give your sources credit in your paper, and how to list your sources at the end of the paper.  For example, say you want to quote Dr. John Smith from his book The History of England.  Dr. Smith says, “Queen Victoria was England’s most effective ruler.” 

Here’s how you would do that in MLA:  Smith says, “Queen Victoria was England’s most effective ruler” (23).

 Here’s how to do it in APA:  Smith (2002) says, “Queen Victoria was England’s most effective ruler” (p. 23).

Notice that you have to include the book’s year of publication in APA, and you have to include the page number in both.

The best source for information on these formats is the Purdue University OWL, or Online Writing Lab, site.  The url is  These formats change periodically, and by that I mean all the time, and the OWL site is always up to date.  It will show you how to cite all kinds of sources, including electronic ones, and how to do a references or works cited page at the end of your paper.

Even if your teacher doesn’t require you to use a certain format, always make sure you separate your own writing from your sources.  Say you find a great quote that’s going to make your point for you.  Always give credit to the source of your quote.  For example, you want to argue that we should keep exploring outer space, and you find a quote from Neil Armstrong.  You can set it up something like this:

I believe we should continue to explore planets beyond our own.  Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, said, “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”

At the end of your paper, be sure to mention the book or website where you found the quote.

In writing, there’s a thing called “fair use,” which means that you’re free to use known facts without giving any credit to a source.  For example, poison ivy has three leaves and makes people itchy.  Everyone knows that, so that’s covered by fair use.  But if you’re writing about a doctor who’s found a new salve for poison ivy that works better than anything else, you have to give the source of that information.  That’s not covered by fair use.

Copying and pasting information into your paper is ok, if you do it as a convenience; I do it all the time.  Here’s a trick I use.  I copy and paste the urls of my sources into Word, and make them into hyperlinks.  Then when I want to return and check something in a source, I can link to it right from the document I’m working on.

But never, ever forget to give the sources of information and quotes in your paper, and always make sure your readers can tell your own writing from your sources.  That way, plagiarism will be one less thing you have to worry about.