ALI: Avoiding plagiarism

Academic Integrity Tutorial

Academic Integrity Tutorial

We strongly suggest you click on the link above and take this tutorial to learn more about plagiarism (stealing someone else's words without citing) and how to avoid it and other forms of scholarly cheating.

Academic Integrity at the University of Southern California is a tutorial developed in a partnership between USC Libraries and  Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards.

Students have 24/7 access to a 15-minute online tutorial providing an overview of academic integrity at USC. A certificate of completion is awarded at the end of tutorial after correctly completing an online quiz. By the end of the tutorial students will know:

  • When and how to cite sources
  • How to avoid plagiarism
  • The sanctions related to violating academic integrity standards at USC
  • How to avoid unauthorized collaboration
  • How to avoid cheating and the falsification of information
  • About library resources available to help achieve academic success as well as to avoid plagiarism

Online tutorial is 15 minutes

Assessment quiz takes 5-10 minutes

Print online certificate to turn in to professors


Another Resource

For more information, take a look at this USC Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standard's very readable handout "Academic Integrity Overview"  (a PDF file). 



Citing Your Sources Correctly

In the United States, giving credit to another author when you mention or directly quote something he or she has written, even if you are only quoting in a class paper that will not be published, is serious business and is governed by federal and state laws, and at USC by policies.  Some countries and cultures approach this differently, and it can be an honor to copy an esteemed scholar's work.  It is still an honor in the US, but you have to give the scholar credit! If you do not correctly indicate (that is what "cite" means) where you got an idea or a quote, you could be liable to discipline up to and including expulsion at USC. 

It is pretty easy today to cite it right, since so many article citation and linking databases will help you construct a citation, so use those resources!  (Here is an example from ProQuest, below).

There are different formats for citing other people's work.  This can get confusing, we know!  Make sure you know what format (for example, MLA, APA, Chicago Manual) your professor wants you to use, and be sure you use it!

For even more detail, we have a whole separate Research Guide on Citations.

A Few Tips - When Is it Plagiarism?

Here are some useful definitions from the Libraries' "Academic Integrity Tutorial"

Plagiarism "includes, using someone else’s work without appropriate acknowledgement (such as paraphrasing another’s ideas or text from a book, journal, or electronic resource without providing the appropriate acknowledgment)."

Cheating "is the use of unauthorized assistance within a class or while completing course work – which provides an advantage which has not been provided to every student.... If you attempt to benefit from the work of another or use unauthorized assistance to compete academic work – this does not further your learning and is considered cheating."

Some things are obviously plagiarism and/or cheating, and can get you sent to Student Judicial Affairs for a serious interview, and possibly expelled, things like:

  • You copy a whole paragraph or more from a book or article right into your paper as if these were your own words and ideas
  • You copy part or all of a "sample research paper" on your topic from a web site for "Easy College Papers"
  • You do not use quotation marks [ "  "] around direct quotes and/or forget to make a citation note and/or forget to add this work you cited to your bibliographyNote that "quote" and "cite" are often synonyms.
  • You collaborate with another student in your class to write your paper, even though the professor said the paper should be your own work

But you need to also be careful with "grey areas" like these:

  • You copy most of a paragraph from an article, moving a few words or sentences around, but do express your own ideas and do not cite
  • You "paraphrase" -- restate in your own words -- another author's concepts without giving credit; you may paraphrase, but you must be accurate -- do not change the author's meaning, and you must not use their words; you should still cite a paraphrase
  • Many scholars use a "rule of five" to determine if something is "common knowledge" -- if you can find 5 or more sources that state something as fact, it may be common knowledge, something like Michael Jackson was a famous pop singer.  But to be on the safe side, you can always cite a source!

Don't take the easy way out, think through your ideas, and put them in your own words (or equations), referencing others' works only to reinforce your own points.  When in doubt about anything regarding a research paper, ask your professor first.  You may also Ask a Librarian for additional assistance.