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ACG Series: Plagiarism

In this Academic Communication Guide (ACG), learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Unit 3: Plagiarism - Good Practices and Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

Unit Objectives:

At the end of this ten-minute unit, you will be able to:

a) Identify some of the reasons behind plagiarism, and

b) Utilise learning strategies to avoid plagiarism.

Unit 3 Contents


5 Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

1. Track your sources

2. Paraphrase (correctly and sufficiently)

Quick Check

3. Manage your time

4. Understand Course and University Requirements

5. Present your own thoughts

Unit Summary

End-of-Unit Exercise



What conditions lead to plagiarism? When would you be most tempted to plagiarise others’ work? Associate Professor Michelle N. Cleary (2017), writing for Phi Delta Kappan, suggests ten reasons that could lead to plagiarism. For the sake of brevity, just a few of them are listed below. Which of the following apply to you?



This is me   

This isn’t me


I’m a sloppy writer; I don’t record properly which ideas are mine and which belong to others.

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I don’t understand why people make such a fuss about sources.

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I think I’m supposed to reproduce what the experts have said.

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I’m not confident that my ideas are enough.

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I panic when I have lots of writing assignments due at the same time.



I’m lazy.

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You may have realised that, according to the list above, plagiarism is often the result of students not being able to cope with their workload, lacking organisational skills or a having a poor attitude.

5 Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism can occur for many reasons, ranging from laziness to genuine ignorance to mismanagement of time. Here are some tips to help you overcome these problems.

1. Track Your Sources

Reading and research are part and parcel of academic writing. As you write your essay, you are bound to look at theories, data and arguments by others and incorporate them into your own work. It is extremely helpful to be methodical when tracking your work so that you know what is from where. Coleman (2015) recommends inserting footnotes (at least one per paragraph) but it is not necessary to provide perfectly formatted citation information, to remind you of the sources that you have used.

You could also use a software programme, such as EndNote or Mendeley, for managing references. NTU Library organises regular workshops for EndNote on the Windows platform and have created an Introduction to EndNote LibGuide to complement these workshops. Visit their webpage for more information.

2. Paraphrase (correctly and sufficiently)

In the first unit, we defined plagiarism as passing off someone else’s words or work as your own. In contrast, paraphrasing means “putting someone else’s ideas in your own words” and is not considered plagiarism when you present the original writer’s ideas entirely in your own words and properly cite the source (Scribbr, n.d.).

It does take a bit of effort to reword a sentence without altering its meaning, but with practice you’ll get better at it. Remember, you shouldn’t just switch a word or two when paraphrasing. is a useful tool you could use to look for synonyms. Try looking at an academic paper and notice how academics paraphrase. Do we want to use contractions? We need to be consistent.

Quick Check 

Here is the original source an author might use in a paper:

The internal process of learning cannot be known, so the focus is on externally visible behaviour.   There is an objective, independent reality, and it is the job of the teacher to impart knowledge of that reality or condition patterns on the learner. 

Here is an example of bad paraphrasing of the source:

The inner working of learning is unknown, therefore the focus is on visible external action. An objective and independent reality exists, and it is the duty of the teacher to teach such knowledge. 

What do you think are the problems with the paraphrased version? 



Firstly, the student has not cited the source. Secondly, the student has merely used synonyms to replace some of the words and terms used in the original without changing much of the sentence structure. The following examples show the parts that were changed:

Original Source The internal process of learning cannot be known, so the focus is on externally visible behaviour.   There is an objective, independent reality, and it is the job of the teacher to impart knowledge of that reality or condition patterns on the learner. 
Bad paraphrasing The inner working of learning is unknown, therefore the focus is on visible external action. An objective and independent reality exists, and it is the duty of the teacher to teach such knowledge. 

Do you notice how similar both examples are? 

Credit: Gouw (2016)

3. Manage Your Time. 

Deadlines for assignments, from different modules, tend to cluster around the end of terms and this can get quite overwhelming. Placing yourself in such a situation may breed the temptation to plagiarise.  Here are a few suggestions for you: 

  1. You should utilise technology to aid you in this department. You could use the many free apps available, for example, you could use Google Calendar to plan your schedule and set reminders for deadlines. In this online article, Silva (2020) lists a number of useful apps for students.  

  2. Breaking up goals into smaller ones can reduce stress. Try setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound) goals to determine if you are taking on too much in too little time. Elias (2014) provides a step-by-step guide on how to set SMART goals in this article.  

  3. Lastly, if you are struggling with your schoolwork, do not hesitate to seek support from the Student Wellbeing Centre.  The LCC Communication Cube is also another useful resource as it offers free assistance with written assignments and other documents, presentations, and speeches.  

4. Understand Course and University Requirements

As previously mentioned, different courses adopt different academic styles for citations. You may be required to know and use more than one style in your degree program. As an illustration, students who pursue the Double Major Programme in Linguistics and English Literature would need to use the MLA and APA style for their literature and linguistics assignments respectively. Moreover, an assignment might be multi-modal in nature, which means you would be submitting videos, pictures, and PowerPoint slides. Using the wrong citation style is considered a form of plagiarism because it is basically inaccurate citation. If you have any questions about your assignment requirements, reach out to your lecturer or tutor.

Also, while it may seem troublesome to go through so much effort to write with integrity, reflect on why this is especially necessary in your own personal life, higher education journey and the workplace later. Many writers agree that it is a good practice to ensure that intellectual property is protected. It is vital to track how ideas develop. Similarly, you would not want others taking credit for your work. Writing with integrity is one way the academic community demonstrates respect for others’ work, much like how someone would tag another user on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

5. Present Your Own Thoughts

Now, perhaps more so than ever before, you will find that it is imperative to differentiate between others’ ideas and your own. At university, you are encouraged to demonstrate evidence of your own thinking in your papers and not just regurgitate what you’ve read. You are expected to interpret, make references, and synthesize ideas. Ideally, you should find your own voice, and distinguish your own thoughts and words and those of other authors (University of Melbourne, n.d.). To do so takes time and practice, but here are five questions to help you get started:

  • What is the author trying to say in this paper?

  • Which parts of the author’s argument do you agree with?

  • Which parts of the argument do you disagree with?

  • Is there anything that could be added to the argument?

  • Could you look at this argument from a different perspective?

Unit Summary

Congratulations! You have finished the final unit. In this unit, you have learnt that plagiarism can be the result of self-doubt, the lack of good study skills or simply having a poor learning attitude. You have also learnt some learning strategies to help you overcome these issues. Aside from the usual end- of-unit exercise, there is also an end-of-module exercise to help you consolidate everything that you have learnt from this module.

End-of-Unit Exercise

1. Which of the following statements is true of paraphrasing? Choose all the correct options.

a. It is putting someone else’s words in another way to show that you understand the content.

b. It is not plagiarism if an accurate citation accompanies it. c. It is difficult but can get easier with practice.
d. It is one of the ways to avoid plagiarism.

2. I used the IEEE style of citation when my lecturer or tutor asked for CSE style of citation. I am...                                                                                      

a. plagiarising others’ work because I have inaccurately cited them.

b. not breaking any rules since I have some sort of citation and references

3. What is EndNote and Mendeley? Choose the correct option.

a. The most exciting MMORPGs now

b. New social media platforms

c. Software programmes for managing (collecting and organising) references

4. Why would presenting my own thoughts help me avoid plagiarism? Choose all the correct options.

a. It is regurgitating what I’ve read.

b. It helps me to differentiate between others’ ideas and my own.

c. When I interpret, make references, and synthesize ideas, I do not copy others’ ideas.




1. a, b, c & d 2. a
3. c
4. b & c