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Writing Tips: Plagiarism

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of someone else's ideas or words; it not only constitutes cheating but is against the law. Copyright law requires that authorship be acknowledged in all cases.

Although technically it does not constitute plagiarism, turning in a paper written in one course to meet an assignment in another course is also considered a form of cheating. Always check with your instructors for permission to do this.


What to Acknowledge

You acknowledge or document someone else's ideas or words by providing your reader with information regarding the source of your material. The information you provide that directs the reader to the source is called a citation. When you supply this information, you are citing your source.

Any and all sources from which you use information must be cited. In addition to all written materials (including both print and electronic forms), sources which must be cited include interviews, lectures, performances, recordings, films, television and radio programs, advertisements, cartoons, maps, and works of art.

Generally speaking, you are required to cite sources for all facts and ideas that you find in your research that you did not know, think, or believe before beginning your research.

Facts: Cite all facts that are not common knowledge. Common knowledge consists of that information which is generally known. Some examples of common knowledge are: Shakespeare wrote King Lear; Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon; Lake George is in New York.

A fact can be considered common knowledge if it is found in a number of standard sources, is not unusual, and does not vary from source to source. Therefore, even if you did not know before you began your research that Shakespeare wrote King Lear, you would not need to document this fact. If you are in doubt as to whether or not a fact should be cited, it is advisable to go ahead and cite it.

It is also unnecessary to document common sayings and quotations such as "A penny saved is a penny earned" and "Give me liberty or give me death." If you are unsure if a particular saying is common enough to make citation unnecessary, find its source by looking it up in a book of quotations such as Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations so that you can cite it properly and accurately.

Ideas: Cite all ideas that you find in your research including those that you may have already had before you began your research. If you wish to convey that you had an idea before you read about it, you can do so in your text; you could, for example, write that an author "confirms" your theory.


How to Report Research Material

You can present research material in the form of quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Citing the original source is required with all three forms, and accuracy in reporting the words, ideas, and information is imperative.

Direct Quotations

In a direct quotation, you report the exact words of a source without any changes in spelling, punctuation, or capitalization.

You can quote an entire passage, a sentence, a phrase, or a word. Keep quotations as brief as possible, and quote only material that is particularly apt, unusual, or vivid.

You can incorporate words, phrases, or fragments of sentences from sources into your own sentences, but you must indicate these items by placing quotation marks around them, and you must cite the source from which you are quoting.

Quoting only a portion of a sentence is acceptable. However, if the excerpt appears to be a complete sentence, you must indicate to your reader that you are omitting part of the original sentence by using an ellipsis.

An ellipsis is a series of three periods with a space before the first period, one after the last period, and a space between the periods ( . . . ). Place the ellipsis at the point where you omit material; this can be at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the quotation. When the ellipsis is at the beginning or end of a quotation, it is placed inside the quotation marks. If the ellipsis is at the end of a sentence, place a period after the last space in the ellipsis ( . . . . ).


A paraphrase is usually based on a brief excerpt of one or two sentences and presents the same information as the original passage.

A paraphrase is usually approximately the same length as the original passage, but it is written in your own words and with your own sentence structures. When you paraphrase, you must cite the original source even though you put the information in your own words. You must also be sure to accurately represent the content and meaning of the original source.

A paraphrase that too closely echoes the original passage is plagiarism. You can avoid this by following a two-step process when writing a paraphrase:

First, substitute your own words for the words in the original passage on a word-for-word basis, retaining the sentence structure of the original.

Then, rewrite that version using your own phrasing and sentence structure.

If you find that there is a particularly interesting or unusual phrase in the original excerpt that you cannot effectively paraphrase, you can incorporate it into your paraphrase as a direct quotation by placing quotation marks around the phrase.


A summary condenses the information from the original source. It presents key ideas and important information without including unnecessary details.

A summary is written in your own words using your own sentence structures, and it accurately reports the original writer’s key ideas. When you summarize information, you must cite the original source even though you put the information in your own words.

To write a summary:

Underline or make notes of the most important ideas and information as you read through the piece you plan to summarize.

Reread the piece to decide:

  • Which of the underlined or noted items are the most important
  • What the main point of the piece is (what the writer wants the reader to know or understand)
  • What the major sections in the argument or explanation are

Write one sentence that states the main point of the piece.

Write one sentence for each of the major sections; include the main ideas and important information in that section.

Bring your individual sentences together to form a rough draft.

Revise for clarity and logical flow of ideas. It is important to accurately report the ideas and information, but it is not necessary to present the information in the same sequence as in the original.


How to Acknowledge Sources

Use the full name of the author the first time you refer to a source. Do not use Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.

The Empire Brewery in San Francisco was the first regular brewery in California according to Hubert Howe Bancroft.

  • You may also include the title of the source in your first reference to it.

    The Empire Brewery in San Francisco was the first regular brewery in California according to Hubert Howe Bancroft’s 1890 History of California.

  • In subsequent references, use only the last name of the author. Do not use Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.

    "The difficulty of introducing malt liquor in good condition gave zest to the business," reports Bancroft.

  • Use variety in your choice of verbs to introduce material from sources. Following is a list of verbs that can be used. A number of them are quite specific; others are general enough to be used in most situations. Be sure to use them according to the meaning you want your sentences to deliver.

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Monday, 11-Jun-2012 12:04:18 PDT
Monday, 11-Jun-2012 12:04:18 PDT