Avoiding Plagiarism in Academic Papers

When you use other people’s ideas, writing, or work, and represent these as your own without giving the original authors proper credit, this is plagiarism. If you work with students, teaching or mentoring, you have likely warned them against the consequences of plagiarism. Many institutions have detailed policies about plagiarism, and clearly articulate the consequences of this for students, faculty and staff.

Most academics know they cannot simply duplicate other people’s writing and present it as their own. They generally know not to copy and paste from other articles without properly using a quote format and citing the article appropriately to give the original authors credit. However, there are several ways in which academic writers plagiarize inadvertently. It is important to know how to avoid this happening when you prepare papers for presentation or publication. One way to avoid this is to choose a professional service to conduct a plagiarism check on your paper before you submit.

Plagiarism when writing about other research studies

One of the most common ways that academic writers inadvertently plagiarize is when they are constructing the literature review part of their paper. The purpose of this section of the paper is to present and synthesize research that other researchers have conducted, and supply an explanation of how your study connects to other research on this topic. Because this section involves synthesizing and reporting on others research studies and articles, it is easy to plagiarize here if you do not know all the requirements for citing and quoting.

When you discuss other research studies or articles in your paper, you need to include citations for that work. Much of the time you will be paraphrasing or synthesizing other studies, and not using exact phrases or sentences from that work. In this case, you would cite the author(s) using the style format required by the journal. Two common style formats used in academic papers are MLA, which is explained by the Purdue Online Writing Center, and the APA Style from the American Psychology Association, which is also explained by the Purdue Online Writing Center. In fact, Purdue offers guidelines for several style formats. These formatting styles provide clear instructions on how to use in-text citations. You should know which style format you need to be using for your paper and read the guide very carefully. This excerpt from an open-access article by Neal, Neal, & Domagalski (2021) supplies an example of in-text citations.

To overcome these challenges, Cairns and colleagues proposed social cognitive mapping (SCM), a method of peer group identification that involves identifying peer groups using multiple peer reports of groups of children that interact together in a setting such as a classroom (Cairns et al., 1988; Cairns & Cairns, 1994). (p. 1).

There are times in your writing when using the exact words from another paper is important to your argument or explanation. In this case you need to include those exact words as a quotation, which is appropriately formatted. When you use a quotation from an article you will need to show that you are quoting, which is typically done with quotation marks or by placing a block quote indented and separated from the text. We see an example of in-text quotations in an excerpt from an article written by Direito, Chance, & Malik in 2019. Because the length of the quote is short, they include it in the text and use quotation marks.

Duckworth and Eskreis-Winkler (2013, 1) recognize that ‘grit clearly belongs to the Big Five Conscientiousness family, particularly overlapping with achievement motivation’. However, these same authors, along with other colleagues, also found that grit is a better predictor of educational attainment and retention in the workplace compared to conscientiousness (Eskreis-Winkler et al. 2014). (P. 4)

Image plagiarism

We can sometimes forget about the use of images being another form of plagiarism. However, using an image without crediting its origin is plagiarism, as these images will be copyright protected. Generally, to use an image in your academic paper, you need permission from the author or the publisher in addition to given credit for that image in your paper. Open-access images may not need permission for use, but you still need to provide a citation for the image and not represent the image as your own work.


Using writing or work that you have already published in a new paper without citing the prior work is considered self-plagiarism. Writers, especially early in their careers, do not always realize this. When you submit an academic paper for publication, you are presenting the work as original and new. That includes the data sets used for the article and the writing. If you do refer to or use quotes from a previously published paper, you need to cite that work appropriately just as you would with any other research study.

Although plagiarism is never acceptable, journals typically allow for some percentage of commonality between manuscripts. This is because text commonality can occur to some degree without plagiarism, especially when authors are writing about similar topics and paraphrasing or synthesizing other research. Typically, less than 15% text commonality is considered fine and more than 20-25% commonality is not acceptable. Bear in mind, however, that if the 15% text commonality is a quote lifted directly from another paper without a proper citation, this would be unacceptable and considered plagiarism. Plagiarism checks will detect text commonality and so to use these checks effectively, you should look back at the specific text commonalities and check to ensure you have not taken the text directly from another source without quoting appropriately.

Tips for avoiding plagiarism.

✓ Write articles from scratch and avoid copying and pasting from papers you have previously published.

✓ When writing the literature review section, do not copy and paste what you want to paraphrase or discuss. Identify the main points or themes that will form the subheadings for your papers, and write your summaries, syntheses and explanations under these headings in your own words. Then go back and pull in in-text citations and quotations. 

✓ Use a professional service to check your paper for plagiarism. Remember inadvertent plagiarism can be difficult to spot, especially self-plagiarism. At The Charlesworth Group, we will run a plagiarism check on your paper, using the iThenticate tool and we will also make recommendations for remedial action to reduce plagiarism risk. 

✓ Understand the style guide your journal recommends and follow these guidelines for citing and quoting. Charlesworth also offers editing services and formatting support, so you can be sure that your citations, quotes, and references are formatted appropriately.

✓ Seek permissions for any images or graphs you wish to use in your paper, and credit these appropriately.

There are strong consequences for plagiarism, and it can negatively affect your career and reputation. In academia, plagiarism is understandably seen in a very negative light, even if it is not extensive. Students at universities and colleges can be suspended from their course if they are found to plagiarize. Plagiarism, especially repeated plagiarism, can be a factor during the retention, tenure, and promotion process. This includes self-plagiarism. Your academic reputation is essential to your career, and any allegation of plagiarism made against you can tarnish that reputation. Avoiding plagiarism is important and worth the extra time and effort it take to do so.



Direito, I., Chance, S. and Malik, M. (2019), The study of grit in engineering education research: a systematic literature review, European Journal of Engineering Education, Published Online 10th December, 2019, pp. 1-25. DOI: 10.1080/03043797.2019.1688256

Neal, Z., Watling Neal, J. & Domagalski, R.(2021) False positives using social cognitive mapping to identify children’s peer groups, Collabra: Psychology, 7 (1), pp. 1-14. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.17969


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