How To Identify and Avoid Plagiarism

If you still have trouble recognizing or understanding plagiarism, consult one of the following.

You can avoid being suspected of cheating or plagiarism and committing even inadvertent plagiarism by following these steps::

  • For all assignments, especially team or collaborative assignments, check with the professor to make absolutely certain what level of cooperation and or sharing is permitted.
    • If you are having trouble getting started writing, talk to your professor.  It is also acceptable, indeed encouraged to talk to your classmates about lectures and readings.  However, it is a violation of the Honor Code for one student to share his/her completed written work with another.  Both the person who presents even a portion of a classmate's work as his/her own AND the person who allowed his/her work to be so used will be punished.
  • From the outset, take good notes that separate the words and thoughts of the source from your own observations and conclusions.
    • As the AHA Statement explains, "[a] basic rule of good notetaking requires every researcher to distinguish scrupulously between exact quotation and paraphrase." ("Identifying Plagiarism" in the AHA Statement of Standards of Professional Conduct)
    • When you're using someone else's exact words in your notes, you should always put quotes around those words and acknowledge with proper citation the person or source from which they have come. 
    • As the cases of independent scholar Doris Kearns Goodwin and Naval Academy history professor Brian VanDeMark remind us, even professional historians are prey to sloppiness in this area, often at serious cost to their reputations and pocketbooks
  • Know when and how to cite sources.
    • It is not necessary to footnote a statement of common knowledge such as "On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China" or "Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944."  However, if you were to assert a claim about Mao's health or mood that day, or to make a statement about the number of troops that landed, readers would expect to see a citation to a supporting source.
    • Even if you use your own words to write a paragraph that summarizes someone else's argument or builds on someone else's ideas, you need to acknowledge that reliance with both a sentence in the paragraph and a proper citation to the work. For example, you might explicitly say, "This paragraph summarizes John Doe's argument in his book, Anonymous People in History" and then provide a citation to the book in a footnote or endnote. Or you might say, "My argument here draws heavily on John Doe's" and again provide a full citation. However, a citation is not a license to paraphrase too much or to avoid singalling readers that you are quoting extensively. As Purdue University Professor of History Elliott Gorn observed, "a single footnote for several paragraphs of closely cribbed work is thin attribution by historians' standards, and not using quotation marks around others' words is a cardinal sin.(Elliott Gorn, "History for Sale," The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 1, 2002.)
    • For additional help on proper citation, visit these sites:
  • Try to distance yourself from your sources by taking the time to digest and ponder what you have read, then express your conclusions as much as possible in your own words. 
    • "A basic rule of good writing warns us against following our own paraphrased notes slavishly. When a historian simply links one paraphrase to the next, even if the sources are cited, a kind of structural misuse takes place; the writer is implicitly claiming a shaping intelligence that actually belonged to the sources."("Identifying Plagiarism" in the AHA Statement of Standards of Professional Conduct)
    • For useful introductions to proper paraphrasing, see
    • US historian Stephen Ambrose's habit of extensive paraphrasing eventually led to accusations that he had plagiarized significant portions of his numerous publications.
    • Ambrose would have done well to have read, "They Said It So Much Better. Shouldn't I Use Their Words?," a section from the Georgetown University's Honor Code. 

What are the consequences at NCSU for plagiarism?

What Students
Are Saying

To study history at NCSU is to join a community of scholars.  My MA studies in the department provided me with a solid foundation for further work at the doctoral level, and I have the highest regard for my mentors and advisors. I am proud to be an alumnus of the history program, and encourage prospective students to consider all that the department and the university has to offer."

Dean Bruno
MA History ’08, MA Public History ‘09, NCSU
PhD candidate, History, Vanderbilt

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College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of History