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MLA & APA Citation Guides: Plagiarism Demystified

We’ve designed this guide to explain: • What citations are • How you use them in your written assignments • Why it’s important to use them • How they are formatted

Plagiarism Breakdown

Simply put: Plagiarism is passing off someone’s ideas or writing as your own.

Plagiarism has two facets: one involves passing off research and ideas as your own; the other involves passing off the actual wording of the writing as your own.

  1. Ideas or research data

When you write a college paper, you have to assert your thesis (your paper’s main idea): “Here is what I think about this topic, but you don’t have to take my word for it. I have all these highly educated and respected authors (like those you have free access to in Galileo) backing me up with scholarly research and statistical analysis.” Because, sometimes, who says something is as important as what they say, you will want your reader to be aware of which authorities you’re using to back up your thesis. You’ll need to do this by citing them in your paper when you’re paraphrasing or reusing their ideas and research in your paper. (Please see the MLA or APA Citation sections of this guide for a more complete explanation.) You want your reader to know where your supporting information came from. After all, you’re writing a research not an opinion paper.

  1. Writing or wording

However, don’t get so carried away with your sources that you start sounding like them, or using their exact words or expressions. You want to “sound” like you. Put it in your words. It’s easy to be writing your draft and because you’re cruising with the writing, you just copy what you’ve read, thinking you’ll go back and change it later. But you don’t. You just like the way they said it, or you can’t think of another way to reword or paraphrase it. *

The danger of not paraphrasing is that when you just copy and paste whole sentences or phrases, it causes a noticeable change in your writing style which won’t be as obvious to you as it will be to your instructor who has seen this type of plagiarism many times before. It’s inescapably easy to spot. Trust me. It is analogous to when you are talking on the phone with someone you know, but unknown to you they’ve handed their phone to someone else for you to talk with. Even if this person’s voice is very similar to that of the first, it won’t take you long to realize that someone else is on the other end doing the talking.

The shift in tone in a paper is as easily detected. Your instructor knows it's not you on the other end. Your paper will get a big highlight with “This part just doesn’t sound like you.”

When you think you’ve paraphrased something well enough but still have doubts about whether it crosses the plagiarism line, read the paper to someone you know well. If they don’t think it sounds like you, reword it again.

You may sometimes think, “I don’t care; I’m way too busy (or late) to write my own paper from scratch. Besides, it’s not like they can arrest you for it.” It’s true…you probably won’t get arrested for plagiarism. But how about the arrested development of your writing skills? Writing is a critical skill in any job. You don’t want your resume or responses on a job application to sound like you’re still in the eighth grade.

To write well, you’ve got to write…on your own. The more you write, the better writer you become. So plagiarism might seem easier and faster at the moment, but your own writing isn’t maturing or getting more sophisticated. You’re stagnating.

And, on a more immediate level: coasting along on another person’s phrasing might help you write your paper faster, but getting caught is not going to help your grade average, at all.

* A work-around for writer’s block, when trying to rephrase your source, is My Pretend Friend. Read the section you want to paraphrase out loud several times; then go into another room and from memory pretend you’re explaining it to a friend in a way that he/she will understand it. Do this out loud. This usually does the trick.


Before scrolling down to Online Plagiarism Checkers, check out our interactive Plagiarism Tutorial for some "hands-on" practice.

A Brief Word About Plagiarism Checkers

While we think the best way to keep your paper above suspicion of plagiarism is to be aware of the two most common types of plagiarism explained above, some students like to use so called Plagiarism checkers. Of course, most of the "good" and even not-so-good ones require  you pay a fee/membership charge. Many will advertise that they are free to use, but will try to sell you a membership at some point.

There’s only one that we tested that will give you sentence-by-sentence  feedback as opposed to those that use “scare” tactics like saying your paper has parts that indicate plagiarism but to find out you’ll need to pay for its service.

If interested, go to  You can copy and paste or upload a file (limit 1000 words per check.) They have a grammar and spelling check tools as well.

If you use this service and really like it or think it's a waste of time,  please send us a brief explanation in the box provided below. If you would like a reply, please include your name and student email in your comment. Thank you for your time.




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