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Avoiding Plagiarism

Academic Integrity

Students at Columbia enjoy significant freedom of artistic expression and are encouraged to stretch their scholarly and artistic boundaries. However, Columbia prohibits all forms of academic dishonesty. When such dishonesty is discovered, the consequences to the student can be severe. Students are responsible for reading and understanding the Academic Integrity Policy as it is outlined in the College Catalog each academic year.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Gathering research materials

  • Allow time for research and gathering materials.
  • Expect to make several trips to the library and to use the library website often.
  • Take time to make careful choices for sources.
  • Allow time for reading.
  • Document a citation for every sources.
  • Have someone - a roommate, friend, tutor, or professor - preview your paper before turning it in.

Taking notes

  • Identify what you write as direct quotation ("Q"), paraphrase ("P"), summary ("S"), or your own ideas ("Me"). Jot down the page number, author, and title of the source. 
  • Keep a working bibliography
  • Keep a research log - where did you search, what search terms did you use, etc.


  • quotation contains the exact words of the source and is indicated by quotation marks. 
  • A paraphrase restates all the original material in different words and is about as long as the original. 
  • A summary gives an overview of the original ideas and is shorter than the original. 

Important Questions to Ask* 

  • Can my readers tell which ideas belong to whom? 
  • Am I clear about how I have used others' ideas in service to my writing?
  • Have I represented others' work fairly in the context of my own?
  • Where have I contributes something of my own to the discussion? 

*Adapted from “The Responsible Plagiarist-Understanding Students Who Misuse Sources” by Abigail Lipson and Sheila Reindi. About Campus. July-August 2003/Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 7-14.

Documenting sources

  • You must cite direct quotations.
  • You must cite ideas that are not your own.
  • You must cite sayings or quotations that are not familiar.
  • You should cite facts that are not common knowledge. 
  • You must cite all printed, audiovisual, electronic, and interview sources

Deciding if something in common knowledge: Material is probably common knowledge if one of these is true: 

  • You find the same information undocumented in at least five other sources. 
  • You think it is information that your readers will already know. 
  • You think a person could easily find the information with general reference sources. 

A word of caution

When using quotations, summaries, or paraphrases, be careful not to substitute others' ideas at the expense of your own. If all you do is weave together various sources and materials, readers will recognize your project as not your own work. Your paper should be an original piece of work; be sure to include your own thoughts, ideas, and analysis. 

Adapted from Duke University's Writing Studio

Just Because You Put It in Your Own Words ...

"Just Because You Put It in Your Own Words ...," from Lehman College Library, April 2014, 2 minutes.