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Avoiding Plagiarism: Academic Honesty

This guide will provide strategies to recognizing and avoiding plagiarism.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Recognize and overcome common pitfalls during the research and writing process that might lead to unintentionally appropriating someone else's words and ideas. 

Photo of hands typing on a computer

OWL: Best Practices
OWL: Plagiarism Exercise
Purdue’s much respected Online Writing Lab (OWL), offers  a wealth of clear information about avoiding plagiarism and correctly using and formatting citations. These two pages may be particularly helpful in avoiding unintentional plagiarism.

Colby Writing Program Online Resources
Other helpful sites.

Farnham Writers' Center
Located in Miller Library, the center offers personal tutoring and other writing help.

Librarians, Writing Center Tutors, and Faculty can help! Reach out!

Librarian Subject Specialists
Colby Libraries "Ask Us"

Scroll down to see Colby's statement on academic honesty.

 Photo Credit:  "Found Blur Motion" by ilouque found on Flickr with Creative Commons license 2.0. Some Rights Reserved.

Common Forms of Plagiarism

Most of these examples are taken from Gordon Harvey's Writing with Sources (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), pp.23-28.

  • Uncited data or information
    If something is common knowledge ("Many songbirds migrate."), you don't need to cite your source. If it is the result of someone else's work or research ("XX% of North American songbirds migrate."), you must cite the source in which you found the data.
  • Uncredited text
    Cutting and pasting text is plagiarism unless you put the text in quotation marks and correctly cite the source.
    Uncredited ideas
    Taking an idea from a source and rewording it entirely is still plagiarism if you don't cite the source.
    Distinctive words or phrases
    One guideline says using four or more words in a row from another source requires quotation marks and a citation to that source. Another says even a single word, if distinctive, can be considered plagiarism if not credited.
  • Unacknowledged organizing structure
    If you summarize someone's argument point by point in your notes and then use those points in the same sequence in your writing without citing the source, you are plagiarizing.
    Ignoring, misrepresenting, or inventing material
    Don't become so enamored of your own theories that you must falsify your evidence to support them.
    Paper mills
    Their quality is generally so poor, so off topic, and so obvious to faculty, why waste your time -- and your education?
    Inappropriate collaboration
    Ask your professors for guidelines any time they require collaboration, and always acknowledge all collaborators in your paper.
    Using one paper for two or more classes
    This should never be done without the explicit permission of all the involved instructors, and is a questionable choice at best.
  • Contributing to plagiarism by others
    Letting someone else copy your work or doing work for someone else both constitute intellectual dishonesty.

Colby's Academic Honesty Policy

Academic Honesty

"Intellectual integrity is a fundamental value of all academic institutions and is at the heart of the teaching, learning, and research activities of the College. Plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses. Finding an instance of academic dishonesty, the instructor will report the case to the academic integrity coordinator. If the student does not accept responsibility for the charge of academic dishonesty, an investigation will be initiated. The Academic Review Board will review the case and may impose a sanction up to and including suspension or expulsion. The decision of the board shall be final and binding. The report becomes part of the student’s confidential file and is destroyed six years after graduation or the last date of attendance. Students may not drop or withdraw from a course in which they have been found guilty of academic dishonesty (unless approved by the Academic Review Board).

Student accountability for academic dishonesty extends beyond the end of a semester and even after graduation. If Colby determines following the completion of a course or after the awarding of a Colby degree that academic dishonesty has occurred, the College may change the student’s grade in the course, issue a failing grade, and rescind credit for the course and/or revoke the Colby degree.

Students who are found responsible for academic dishonesty in a course, while that course is still in session, are not allowed to complete a course evaluation for that course. Students who are found responsible for academic dishonesty in a course will not be allowed to write a letter for the promotion or tenure of the professor of that course.

Without the approval of all the instructors involved, registration for two or more courses scheduled to meet concurrently is a form of academic dishonesty."

2020-2021 Colby College Catalogue

"A Student’s Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism and Understanding Citations"

16 minute video about plagiarism, why it's bad, and how to avoid it. From the database Academic Video Online.

"A Student’s Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism and Understanding Citations." , directed by Ronald C. Meyer. , produced by Paul Lee, Ronald C. Meyer, and Centre Communications. , Alexander Street, 2019. Alexander Street,


  1. Talk to faculty about plagiarism.
  2. Bring it up in class.
  3. Ask what form of citation to use (MLA? APA? Chicago? CSE?), as these vary from discipline to discipline.

Research Log

Keep a research log in which you record search strategies (where you searched and what terms you used) and complete citation information for each source consulted.

Databases and catalogs often provide options to save your searches. Also, investigate citation managment tools such as EndNote, Zotero, RefWorks, etc.

Quotation Marks

 Use quotation marks in your notes to make it clear when you are using someone else's words or ideas.

See For Yourself

Don't cite a source you haven't read, heard or viewed.

Online Images

Images from the Web must be properly cited in any presentation, paper or electronic. Consult the Image Resource Guide.

Notes & Drafts

Keep your notes and drafts of your papers for at least a semester after the course.


See if you can explain your ideas to a friend without referring to your notes. If you can't, or if you find yourself using other people's language, you may need to increase your own understanding of the subject before writing the paper or giving the presentation.

Considerations for Scientific Writing

Guidelines for referencing evidence in your assignments.
You should cite:

  1. The source of tables, statistics, diagrams, photographs, and other illustrations.
  2. When describing a theory, model, or practice associated with a particular writer.
  3. To give weight or credibility to an argument supported by you.
  4. When giving emphasis to a theory, model, or practice that has found some agreement or support among commentators.
  5. Direct quotations or definitions.
  6. When paraphrasing another person’s work, if not common knowledge, and that you feel is significant or may be subject to debate.

--Neville: Complete Guide to Referencing & Avoiding Plagiarism

Mathematical Problems

Please check for specific guidelines with your professor. Some examples:     

If a study group works on assigned problems, each member of the group should write up the solution  from scratch on their own without further consultation with the other members of the group. 

The solutions that you hand in must be your own work, not copied from someone else.  You should independently write mathematical solutions to the problems to be sure you understand the general principles as well as the specific answer.

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