To avoid unintentional plagiarism:
- Keep careful notes as you are doing your research.
- Rephrase ideas into your own words as you take notes.
- Document your research by creating a complete bibliography (also called a list of references or works cited) that includes full citations to all your sources.
- Use the guidelines below in deciding what you need to cite and what you don't.
- It is sometimes difficult to tell how much of an idea is your own thinking and how much is from your source. If you are confused or uncertain about the need to document something, consult your instructor.
- Study these examples from Princeton University to better understand how to avoid plagiarizing: Academic Integrity at Princeton: Examples of Plagiarism.
- Refer to the What is Plagiarism? guide prepared by the HSU Learning Center for more help.
Not everything needs to be documented. For example:
- “Common knowledge,” such as, "Sacramento is the capital of California," "American independence is celebrated on July 4th," or "Arcata is in Humboldt County," are all examples of well-known facts that can be verified easily. Their accuracy is not in doubt, and they would not normally need to be documented.
- Common or widely shared opinions do not usually need to be documented, either. For example, you could probably state that "electronic technology has changed society in many ways," or "the Vietnam War caused serious divisions in American society" without documentation. However, if you were quoting someone who said or wrote that statement, you would need to cite your source.
Also, what is considered "common knowledge" can vary.
Therefore, especially at the beginning of your academic career, it is wise to check with your instructor before assuming that a fact or an opinion is commonly enough known not to require documentation.