Plagiarism & How to Avoid It
A guide for students who want to avoid plagiarism or other academic offences and the penalties they incur, or who want help managing sources. It is not about why it is wrong, but just about how not to do it.

University of Toronto's Office for Academic Integrity



Q: Is cheating and plagiarizing increasing among students?

A: Yes, it appears to be. More students are being caught (this may also be due to more professors becoming aware of the problem.)

Q: Why is it increasing?

A: Perhaps ... increased pressure on students to get high marks. The internet makes it easy (so much information readily available.) Students may observe that others sometimes get away with it.

Q: What are the University of Toronto's policies and punishments?

A: Check U of T's "Code of Behavior on Academic Matters"

and University of Toronto's Office for Academic Integrity

Q: Where can I find help?

LINKS for writing help, style guides, medical & counselling services.

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Are YOU plagiarizing? You might be breaking a rule when ...

These are DANGER SIGNS. Watch out for them. If any of these situations apply to you, be extra careful! You might be plagiarizing. You might want to check out sections on the Rules and Managing Sources.

It feels like you are taking a short cut...
The easy way is often the wrong way.
You might be copying more than you think.
You aren't sure you understand the material...
You downloaded, copied or 'pasted' anything from the internet...
It's so fast and simple that it is easy to lose track of the author.
You worked with or got help from another person, especially if he/she is submitting, or has submitted, an assignment on the same topic... Helping you do the work can easily slide into doing the work for you. And when you help others, you may find it's easier or faster to just do it for them. Don't let it happen!
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Otherwise honest students plagiarize when ...

Most students are more or less honest and fully human. They screw up when they are up against a wall. But plagiarism is a very bad solution to very common problems. Here are some better solutions to try.

Can't make a deadline?

Everything is due at the same time?

Events in your social/personal life took too much time/attention?

Procrastinated just a little too much?

(More below ...)
  • do it earlier (although it might be too late for that.)

  • take what you've got to Prof & talk to him/her about situation.

  • ask for an extension (it can't hurt! Remember, the earlier, the better.)

  • hand in what you've got (it might be better than you think.)

  • take the late penalty (it's better than the penalty for cheating)
  • talk to the Prof/TA . Get explanations, suggestions. Make sure you understand exactly what is expected on the assignment.

  • Try to get together with other students to discuss course material. (But be careful that you don't do each others' work.)

  • Try to explain what you are studying or reading to someone who isn't taking the course (even if you don't understand it all). This can help you crystalize the main ideas.

  • Find out if you can hand in a rough draft, or have the Prof/TA look over an outline.

  • Read section below on using sources for different purposes

  • If it's too late, just do the assignment as best you can and hand it in (a low mark is better than no mark & much better than the penalty for cheating.)

  • U of T Academic Success Center
Having problems with the assignment or course?

Want higher marks?

(More below ...)
  • talk to your Registrar, Prof or Academic Advisor. They can help you find ways to get through your assignment/course/term, make accommodations that will work for you.

  • Ask for an extension -- time sometimes helps.

  • If you have been sick, depressed, abnormally stressed, etc. see a doctor, psychiatrist, or counselor. They can help you get back on track, give you good advice & you can ask them for a note (Notes are often/sometimes required, and notes make it easier for Profs & Registrars to help you find appropriate solutions.)

  • U of T Health Services
  • U of T Counselling and Psychological Services
Life is falling apart...

You have been sick...

Something awful happened...
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Give credit where it is due & People will give you credit for what you do.

Most academic offences are really about this principle and its corollary. If everyone gives credit where it is due, then everyone will get credit for what they do.

It's fair. Students are expected to know what's fair. Thus, you can't say you didn't know -- you should have known! (Plus the University will hold you responsible for what you should know.)

Learn more about U of T's Code of Behavior on Academic Matters. (It's also in your course calendar.)

  • It's an offense to represent as your own anything that someone else wrote, thought up, etc.

  • When you are using sources, you need to make it clear to your readers the name of the person(s) who did the work, came up with the idea, wrote the words, solved the problem, etc.

  • You have to do the work yourself. Nothing wrong with asking for help, but the helper should be helping you figure out how you can do the work. He/she should not do it for you.

  • You can't get someone else to write your paper, test, exam, etc.

  • If you don't give credit where it is due that means that you are presenting work you didn't do (or didn't do by yourself) as if it is your very own work That's against the rules even if you didn't mean to do it, and even if you think your Prof should have known where the ideas came from.

  • If it isn't all yours and you don't say so, you are plagiarizing.
  • Your marks and credit for a course are being granted on the basis of the work you do for that course.

  • Your degree is being granted on the basis of the work you do at that institution, in order to fulfill the requirements for that degree.

  • You can't hand the same paper (or substantially the same paper/assignment) in for more than one course. If you got credit for it in one course, then you can't get credit for it in a second course, since you didn't do the work for the second course.

  • Unless your Prof tells you that you can do an assignment with another student, you can't. The work has to be all your work. (If you do half the work, you deserve half the credit.)

  • You can't do the work for someone else if he/she is supposed to be getting the credit for the work.

  • If you don't do the work, you won't get credit for it.
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A quote or quotation is a string of words that is word for word identical to that of person other than yourself. It must be clearly indicated as a quotation through the use of quotation marks or indentation and proper citation of the source (footnote, endnote or author/date citation as well as in bibliography.) See links for more on citation help & style guides.


Paraphrase is putting somebody else's thoughts into your own words. Paraphrase is of a particular passage, and is usually shorter, clearer or more direct than quotation of the entire passage. When paraphrasing, read the entire passage, then close the book and put it into your own words. DO NOT just alter what is there. If you want to say exactly what the author said, quote it, don't paraphrase. It must be clearly indicated that the passage is a summary or paraphrase of someone else's work. This is usually done in the sentence preceding the paraphrased passage when you introduce the paraphrase, and through proper citation of the source (footnote, endnote or author/date citation as well as in bibliography.) See links for more on citation help & style guides.


NO! Changing every third or fourth word is not acceptable, even if you change the order of the clauses a little. It is not legitimate paraphrase. A paraphrase is supposed to be in your own words (not in somebody else's words with slight alteration). Moreover, this kind of 'overly close' paraphrase suggests that you do not understand the passage (since you are unable to put it into your own words), and you may be evaluated accordingly. Overly close paraphrase may be considered plagiarism since it takes what are essentially somebody else's words and presents them as your own.


Quotes and paraphrased passages have to be doing some sort of work in your essay. You have to make their purpose clear to the reader. Don't leave them to stand on their own.

What work can quotes and paraphrase do?

  • Present primary material that you will interpret or explain.
  • Provide evidence or support for a point you are making.
  • Clarify a point that you or one of your sources has made.
  • Present a counter-example, criticism or point that you will criticize or deflect.
  • Present an argument that you will critically discuss or analyze.

In a strong essay, every quote and paraphrase is doing something - contributing to the overall value of the essay. Why have a lot of quotes sitting about doing nothing when they could be working for you? If there is work to be done (and there is!), find some quotes to employ and put them to work.


1. IDENTIFY THE NEED FOR HELP- What job do you need a quotation or paraphrase to do? What kind of quotation/paraphrase can get the job done? An essay is not a 'make-work project' for quotations - don't just throw in some quotes to make your essay look good. There is real work that needs to be done.

2. SELECT THE BEST CANDIDATE - Find the quotation or construct the paraphrase that is best suited to do the work you have identified. (You might need to try a few out - if it doesn't do the job well, either give it a different job which it is well suited for or move on to the next candidate.)

3. PUT IT TO WORK - Embed the quotation or paraphrase in your essay by using it to do the job that you have identified. Use the quotation/paraphrase by making it clear what point it is supporting, expanding on it, explaining it's significance, putting it in context, interpreting it, clarifying it, criticizing or analyzing it, etc.

4. COMPLY WITH STANDARDS - Is your short quotation in quotation marks? Is your longer quotation single spaced and indented? Is your paraphrase really in your own words? Is it properly identified as paraphrase? Put in the proper references.

5. JOB EVALUATION - Read the paragraph over. Consider whether or not the quote or paraphrase is doing the job you hired it for. Check the references and citation format.

DON'T QUOTE AND RUN! Dropping a quote and quickly running off without any sort of expansion, explanation, contextualization or other support is poor writing. The worst cases of 'Quoting and Running' involve running from quote to quote with very little thought linking them. When you use a quote, stop and think about why you are using it. Then make it clear to your reader.

TIP: Do you have more than a couple references per page? Do quotation/paraphrase take up more than approximately a quarter of your word-count (not including introductory and concluding paragraphs)? If you answer yes to either of these questions, go back and think about what your quotations are doing for you. Do a 'job evaluation' for the entire essay. Chances are high that you aren't using the quotations/paraphrase properly. Either rewrite your essay so that they are working to support what YOU have to say, or make sure that the excessive quotation/paraphrase is justified. Remember ... the essay should be your words, your argument, your analysis. The quotes and paraphrases are just there to support your points.


Since this depends on the specifics of your assignment or essay, a general answer can't be given. However, here are some questions YOU can ask yourself that may help you determine how you can best choose and use sources for your purposes.

Consider your professor's expectations:

Many professors give some guidance, formally or informally.

  • Read the assignment sheet carefully, looking for hints as to what sources you are expected to use. Make use of any guides that your professor recommends.
  • What particular works are mentioned in the assignment question(s)? Consider these your primary texts. Or if you are expected to come up with a topic of your own, pick one or two primary texts to focus on.
  • Think about the other assigned reading for the course ... is it relevant?
  • Did your professor indicate to you that you should be going beyond the course material for this assignment?
  • If so, has your professor given you a bibliography or suggested other readings?
  • Does your course text contain a bibliography of suggested reading or background material?

Consider the type of essay or assignment:

  • Is it primarily an exercise in showing you understand or can interpret the material? If so, chances are that you are expected to work through the primary sources without too much other material.
  • Is it a paper in which you present an argument for a particular point (or defend a position or thesis against criticisms)? If so, the specific point or argument you are discussing is probably based on one or two primary sources. You will want to be focussed on these primary sources, but other articles will give contrasting views, criticisms or support for your thesis. Consider the main sources that your primary sources cite. Don't overdo it - this is not a research paper.
  • Is it a research paper or a survey of the literature on a topic? If so, you will probably want to use a variety of sources. Find some way to narrow the field - look for a selected or annotated bibliography that will let you focus on the best or most important work at the level that you are working at. Also look at the main texts/articles that your sources are citing. It is easy to go overboard here and use too many sources. Make sure you are really making use of them and not just reading the back cover.

Consider how well you understand the material:

  • Find sources that you can understand (with some effort perhaps!)
  • If you don't understand the material very well, start with a source that is at your level and that will help you understand the material. Then stretch to a few more challenging sources. NEVER use sources that you can't get a handle on.

Be careful with Electronic or Internet Sources:

  • There is a lot of material out there - some of it is great, much of it is not.
  • Some professors discourage the use of internet sources. Find out how your professors feel about it.
  • Internet sources are often used by students in ways that constitute plagiarism, and may themselves be plagiarized. When you find a site that is relevant, it isn't always clear what electronic material is original work, who the author is and whether he/she is any good. If you do use the internet, be extra careful! When you are surfing it is easy to lose track of the sources; and when you cut and paste into your paper, you are plagiarizing.
  • Put more trust in articles on the internet that are copies of print articles, and thus are also available in journals or books that you might find in the university libraries. Books and journals in the university libraries, assigned readings, etc. have all been published by publishers who thought they were good enough to spend the money on, usually after being read and criticized by other experts in the field, and have been selected by the librarians/professors and retained because they were worth keeping for students and scholars to read. Not everything you find in the library is great, but most of it was published and chosen critically - so you are much less likely to run into problems. This is not true of most of the stuff on the internet - anybody can post anything (consider this page for example!)

Good writing is a skill you can improve:

Philosophy Paper Help ...

More Writing Help ...

Proper Documentation of Sources and Good Style can be learnt:

Plagiarism CAN be avoided:

Good study habits come from a healthy body, mind and lifestyle:

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