Skip to Main Content

Public Services: Plagiarism

McNeese Documents

How to Avoid Plagiarism


Youtube at many videos discussing Plagiarism.  One of the better videos can be found here.


Introduction                                       Common Knowledge                            Links

Direct Quoting                                   Paraphrasing                                       Reusing a Class Paper

Summarizing                                     Images                                                 Evaluation

Dr. Williams Helps Students Avoid Plagiarism                     


Plagiarism is presenting someone else's work, accidentally or intentionally, as your own work.

There are no laws governing plagiarism.  Vice President Joe Biden had to withdraw from the 1988 presidential election when the media accused him of plagiarizing a speech from a British politician - and that is after he was forced to admit plagiarizing in law school!  Michael Belleiles had to resign his professorship at Emory University for plagiarism.  CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria was suspended a month's pay for plagiarism.

The penalties at McNeese State University are covered in the Academic Integrity Policy and the Student Handbook (Code of Conduct).  The professor usually determines the penalty.  More often than not, the penalty is re-doing the assignment in a much shorter period of time, or receiving a significant cut in point.  Penalties for students include receiving an F grade on assignments, receiving an F grade for the course, repeating courses, and suspension or expulsion from school. 

The following is intended to help you avoid plagiarism. 


Common Knowledge

Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether an idea or fact is common knowledge.  Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius.  That is common knowledge.  George Washington was the first "President of the United States."  Some sources argue that John Hanson was the first president; but his title was "President of the Continental Congress."  However, President John Hanson is not common knowledge, so a citation is appropriate.  Even though it is easy to Google "President John Hanson" and confirm his place in history, it is a good habit to cite facts. 

Facts have a way of changing over time.  Consider the Egyptian pharoah Hatshepsut.  Her successor, and step-son, Thutmose III tried to write her out of history.  For much of the twentieth Century Egyptologists battled back and forth over her status until most academics became convinced that she was a legitimate pharoah.  Or, consider the pseudo-planet Pluto.  Discovered in 1930, students grew up learning about nine planets in the solar system.  Then in 2015 it was reclassified as something less than a planet.  In 2005 astronomers discovered Eris, another pseudo-planet beyond Pluto and larger than Pluto.  In January 2016 astronomers found evidence of a massive planet beyond Pluto.  So, books and articles published around 2015-2017 may refer to only eight planets.  It is best to cite the source.  If in doubt, cite it!


How do you avoid plagiarism by not citing common knowledge?

The most generic answer is to ask yourself if you knew something you want to include in your assignment or work before taking the course, or before you began your research.  A more legal approach is to find at least five reliable sources (Purdue Owl) that do not document a particular statement or fact.  What is common knowledge to you may not be common knowledge to your audience.


Direct Quoting

The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is through direct quoting and citing. 

However, too much direct quoting can also be problematic.  Where does the original work end and your contribution begin?    

Direct quotes are not filler, taking up space to artificially extend your paper.  You should use direct quotes sparingly.  In general, you should only use direct quotations when the original author(s) have written something using specific word choice, grammar, and syntax that either states the material perfectly or that you are disputing. 

There is an additional danger to using direct quotes.  If you leave out just one word or punctuation mark, accidentally or not, you are falsely attributing something to someone else.  If you put it in writing, you are committing libel, a legal issue that can have serious consequences. 


How do you avoid plagiarism by direct-quoting?

Over-quoting is not a form of plagiarism.  However, it shows a lack of original work and is not valued by society.  If you over-quote on a paper or assignment, you are probably not following directions.  When checking for plagiarism, 10% can be a good guideline for direct quoting. 



Paraphrasing is using your own words to focus on a key idea or piece of evidence in an article or book rather than the entire article or book.  By contrast, a summary would consider the entirety of the original work. 

Most students get in trouble over paraphrasing.  When you are doing research, you will find many resources that touch upon your topic.  Some of those resources will directly address your topic.  It is tempting to use their arguments and evidence, and hope you will not get caught.  The purpose of your assignment or paper is to learn about a specific topic in a course.  If you intentionally plagiarize by changing a few key words and not citing your source, you are not learning.   

Because there is no legal precedent for plagiarism, consider using the guidelines copyright.  Copyright is a large set of legal precedents preventing the unauthorized distribution of someone else's work.  Copyright law is flexible for educational purposes.  Creators (YOU) can usually use 10% of someone else's work when properly cited. 

Try to think of your assignments and papers as being conversations.  What are your contributions to the discussion?  How are your ideas different from other people's ideas?  If you find that someone else has written about a topic perfectly....change your topic.  You need to add something to the conversation.  If you change a few words, but leave the bulk of the content as it was originally created, it suggests that you are not thinking about the material.


How do you avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing? 

The easiest answer is to properly cite your sources.  However, more importantly, you need to make sure that you can analyze and comment on the original work.  Paraphrasing is looking at the evidence.  Do you agree with the original author?  Why?  Is there something the original author should have considered?  Is there a problem with the author's methodology?  is there bias?  Measuring paraphrasing is difficult.  Most reputable writing centers (Purdue Owl, Yale, Iowa Writers' Workshop) advise a limit of 20% - 25% maximum for paraphrasing.  Use your word count feature to make sure you are below this threshold. 


Summarizing is a quick overview of a study's thesis, methodology, and results with no interpretation.  You are not explaining anything beyond the bare minimum which is usually included in an abstract.  This is different from paraphrasing in that a paraphrase offers some analysis and discussion - but not your own. 

Sometimes it is necessary to give background information to your audience without giving too much detail.  This is the essence of summarizing.  It is different from paraphrasing because paraphrasing considers specific details, whereas summarizing considers the entirety of a work.  There are not many guidelines on how to summarize.  Focus on the argument and the results.  When you are ready to discuss specific examples of evidence used in another study, consider whether it is appropriate to start a new paragraph, or whether you are able to move that discussion somewhere else in your work. 

However, too much summarizing may not leave enough room for your contribution.  Much like the over-use of direct-quoting, too much summarizing distracts your audience and confuses your work with that of the original. There are no guidelines to determine an appropriate length for a summary.  A summary can be a few sentences or a chapter in a book. 


How do you avoid plagiarism when summarizing?

This goes beyond properly citing your sources.  When summarizing, it is understood that you are attributing the original author(s).  Assuming that you do properly cite the original author(s), you are not plagiarizing.  If you summarize other work too much on a paper or assignment, you are probably not following directions.  Measuring paraphrasing is difficult.  Most reputable writing centers (Purdue Owl, Yale, Iowa Writers' Workshop) advise a limit of 20% - 20% maximum for paraphrasing.  Use your word count feature to make sure you are below this threshold.




There is surprisingly little in the internet about plagiarising images.  It is probably more common than any other form of plagiarism.  Consider how often you share images through social media like Facebook, email, Flickr, and Pinterest.  Your audience may know that you are not the creator of the image; but they do not know the original creator(s).  Professionals do it all the time when making presentations.  It is so easy to find good images through Google....

Most professionals post images to the internet knowing that they may be seen by millions of people who then use them for their own purposes.  That does not mean that we should oblige them.  If you find one of your photos of your pet guinea pig trending over the internet when converted into a meme, you may feel pride, but also a little hurt that the creator of the meme gets the credit, and you are unknown.  The same premise applies to your work.  Cite your sources.


How do you avoid plagiarism with images?

Most social media and web browsers can filter search results to something called a Creative Commons License.  These licenses come in many forms with many different exemptions.  The basic idea is that you are free to use them for non-commercial purposes.  Images that are in the public domain do not require a creative commons license.  Flickr, Google (limit by usage rights), and Pinterest have advanced search features to limit your searching to free images. 

Re-Using a Class Paper

The university's Academic Integrity Policy and Student Handbook both indicate that re-using a paper that you wrote for a previous class in place of a paper for a current class.  The connection to plagiarism is that the original paper is not cited in the re-used paper.  When one thinks about it, no one would not want to cite the original manuscript because it is clear evidence of not doing the current work.


There is some subjectivity to evaluating plagiarism.  As a general guideline, use your word count to make sure you do not exceed 10% of the total in any of the above categories.  However, there is a cumulative effect.  10% summarizing three sources is a cumulation of 30% summary.  Too much summary means you are not adding anything to the research.  Likewise, 10% summarizing, 10% direct quoting, and 10% paraphrasing is 30%.

The magic number is somewhere between 20% and 25% tolerance. 

Most faculty have access to Turnitin, an online tool that scans documents looking for unoriginal content online and through published content, including some paper mills.  The report Turnitin gives to faculty corresponds passages in the document to the sources.  It also gives a percentage based upon the size of both the document and the original source to create a similarity report.  Most faculty regard that a similarity report greater than 25% is a plagiarized work. 

Dr. Williams Helps Students Avoid Plagiarism

President Williams

Dr. Philip C. Williams, former President of McNeese State University, wants to help students succeed.  To this effect he offers one of his own publications as a model on how to avoid the common pitfalls of plagiarism such as over-summarizing; over-paraphrasing; and over-quoting.

Williams, Philip. "Physician Reimbursement Mechanisms as Social Constraints: An Historical Critique of Douglass North's Theory of Institutional Evolution." Politics and the life sciences 16 no. 2 (September 1997): 289-298. 

  • In this article, Dr. Williams refutes an argument by an economist by drawing evidence from 8 physician reimbursement systems.
  • Most of the articles discuss healthcare; none of them discuss healthcare with regards to Douglass North's Theory of Institutional Evolution.
  • Dr. Williams' article is available in the Faculty Publications Collections in the Archives Department at Frazar Memorial Library, McNeese State University.


  • Douglass North was not writing about healthcare.  His book, Institutions,Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (1990), is a complicated academic theory for studying economic development and economic theory.  You can check it out at Frazar Memorial Library (HB 99.5 .N67 1990).
  • In order to refute North's argument, Dr. Williams needs to describe North's argument to his audience.  The best way to do so is by summarizing.
  • Using one large paragraph (and a large block quote), he adequately summarizes North's argument. 
    • This is a summary because he is presenting North's overall argument from his entire work.  He is citing materials from three separate chapters.
    • Dr. Williams is using his own words to interpret his argument. 
    • Dr. Williams is also using direct quotes to support his summary. 
    • The librarians at Frazar Memorial Library converted a PDF of his article into a Word document to obtain a word count at about 8,000 words.  Dr. Williams devotes 2 paragraphs (300 words determined by 150 words per paragraph), or 4% of the article, for this crucial summary (See p. 289).
    • Dr. Williams follows his summary with 3 paragraphs (450 words or 6% of the article) of his own analysis on his argument (See pp. 289-290).


  • Horacio Fabrega and Daniel Silver studied the shamanistic healthcare system of a Mexican-Indian community (1973).  Similarly to Douglass North, they composed an entire book on the subject. 
  • Dr. Williams does not need to summarize the main arguments and findings of their work.  He just needs to discuss a small portion about "paying" shamans for healthcare services.
    • The community's version of physician reimbursement is quite complicated.  In order to show how their system applies to his argument, Dr. Williams has to go into some detail in describing the system. 
    • The detail shows that Dr. Williams understands the material uses the material to support his argument and adds an alternative perspective to the idea of healthcare.  
    • Dr. Williams discusses their material in his article in three paragraphs, or about 450 words (6% of the article).  However, if he relied on fewer studies for evidence, he could easily have expanded his discussion of this fascinating culture (See pp. 291-292).
    • Dr. Williams does NOT spend 6% of the article paraphrasing each reimbursement system. 
      • He has a short paragraph (100 words or 1.25% of the article) on Rome; and he just offers a simple citation.
      • He spends no more than 20% of the total article on paraphrasing, summarizing, and direct-quoting.

Direct Quoting

  • If you read Dr. Williams' article, you will find that he likes to use direct quotes.
  • He uses two block quotes.  One is from Douglass North.  The other is from a study on Confucian China that succinctly describes the complex interplay of demonic medicine, magic correspondence, yin-yang, Five Phases of paradigms, "harmony," and natural phenomena. 
  •  In most cases, he uses quotes when he prefers using someone else's word choice over his own paraphrasing.
    • Good writing includes about 15-20 words per sentence.  Dr. Williams is a lawyer, so let us assume his sentences are about 20 words per sentence. 
    • The librarians at Frazar Memorial Library counted 15 direct quotations in his article.  That means he has about 300 words (4% of the article) in direct quotations.



  • has a lot of information, that ironically, is not properly cited.  Some of its best resources are the plagiarism detection tools (websites like Turnitin) and related links.
  • IvyPanda is written as a blog with clever descriptions on unintentional plagiarism and TurnItIn.
  • Northwestern University relies on examples to show the correct and incorrect way to paraphrase and quote.
  • is similar to  Its strongest resource is the list of plagiarism detection tools.
  • The OWL at Purdue University has an excellent overview on paraphrasing.  If you are still uncertain about paraphrasing, check out their page.
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison has one of the best websites for understanding paraphrasing with excellent examples. 




McNeese State University Frazar Memorial Library | Box 91445 | Lake Charles, LA 70609 | 337-475-5725 |

McNeese State University | 4205 Ryan St., Lake Charles, LA 70609 | 800-622-3352
EOE/AA/ADA | A member of the University of Louisiana System | Web Disclaimer | Policy Statements | University Status & Emergency Preparedness