How to Properly Cite Sources and Avoid Plagiarism

With the advent of the internet, social media and artificial intelligence, now more than ever, information is always at hand, whenever and wherever we need it. At the same time, instances of plagiarism have grown exponentially. All of these ease of access also makes it easy to forget to credit the original creator. 

Sherice Jacob

With the advent of the internet, social media and artificial intelligence, now more than ever, information is always at hand, whenever and wherever we need it. At the same time, instances of plagiarism have grown exponentially. All of these ease of access also makes it easy to forget to credit the original creator. 

Plagiarism, at its core, is using someone else’s words or ideas without giving them proper credit. But it’s not something you just have to worry about if you’re a student writing an essay. Professional content creators need to worry about plagiarism too, which is where this article can help. Let’s take a closer look at how to properly cite sources and avoid plagiarizing others’ content, either intentionally or unintentionally. 

More than One Kind of Plagiarism

You may not know it, but there’s more than one kind of plagiarism. Imagine you copied and pasted an author’s text directly from their website and passed it off as your own, without changing any of the wording. That would be considered direct plagiarism. It’s the easiest to detect but also the easiest to circumvent. 

Where many students and professionals alike find themselves in trouble is through types of plagiarism like mosaic plagiarism, which involves borrowing phrases from another source without using quotations or citing them, or outright forgetting to cite a source (or misquoting them). You can even plagiarize yourself through “self plagiarism”, where you use your previous work in a new project without divulging that you’ve done so.

With all of these points in mind, it’s easy to get confused. Fortunately, there are a wide range of tools and strategies you can use to help you avoid plagiarism. 

How to Properly Cite Sources

Follow these steps to cite your sources correctly and fully: 

  1. Determine the Preferred Citation Style - There are several different types of citation styles including MLA, APA, Chicago and Harvard. Even within academic institutions, different majors will have different preferences. For example, some English and language arts courses prefer MLA while APA is preferred in the sciences. Your university or publisher will provide you with guidelines as to the style of citations they want to see.

  2. Keep Track of Your Sources - As a writer or content creator, it’s up to you to keep a record of your sources. That means every book, website or other source you consult and opt to use, make a note of it. It will be far easier to create your works cited page or references if you have all of that information on hand.

  3. Quote the Source Exactly - When using someone else’s words or sharing their idea, put their quote word for word incite quotation marks and cite them according to the style guide you’re using.

  4. Putting it into Your Own Words - When you take someone else’s idea and rephrase it in your own words, it’s important to do so with care. Don’t just change a word here or there. Even if you’re paraphrasing what someone else wrote, you still need to cite them as a source. 

If you’re worried about having too many citations, don’t be. It’s better to cite too much than not enough! 

Cite it Right

Be thankful that in the digital age, you no longer have to leave through countless pages of a style guide to find the reference style that most closely aligns with the source you’re trying to share. As someone who went to university around the time of the dot-com boom, I can remember vividly having to specify which “Internet format” was used to access the source, such as WWW, Usenet or Gopher. Gopher!

Thankfully times have changed and technology has vastly improved. There are even online tools to help you format your references correctly. pulls from over 10,000 different citation styles to organize and save information from a variety of sources all in one place. You can even co-author papers and work together on the bibliography.

Zotero Personal Research Assistant
Zotero makes it easy to organize and cite your references to avoid plagiarism

The tool also works with Google Docs, Microsoft Word and LibreOffice, letting you use your favorite word processing program and extract your cited works directly into your software for easy formatting and reference. It’s free to use as well, making it great for students and professional content creators alike. Zotero is available for Windows, macOS and Linux operating systems. 

If you don’t need a full blown reference management program and instead want a program that generates citations for you, check out EasyBib or You can create a variety of different citations according to your preferred style and ensure that they’re all formatted correctly and effortlessly. 

If you simply want to detect plagiarism in an existing work or avoid instances of unintentional plagiarism or you want to see if a writer or content creator has potentially used AI to write their paper for them, simply upload or copy and paste the text directly into Originality.AI. 

With Originality.AI, you have the option of choosing either a plagiarism scan, an AI detection scan, or both. You can purchase credits for a one-off scan (checking a paper or two) or you can subscribe to monthly scans for ongoing scans, making it an excellent investment for website owners who work with a roster of writers. 

Best Practices to Help You Avoid Plagiarism

Be Meticulous in Your Organization - A scattered desk full of sticky notes is not meticulous organization. Have a centralized hub to organize the sources you pull from and update it frequently as you consider other ideas, studies or sources. 

Watch Out for Common Knowledge Pitfalls - If a fact or idea is widely known, or if you’re  quoting a commonly-known idiom or saying, you don’t necessarily need to cite it. If you’re not sure, go ahead and cite it anyway. Better safe than sorry! 

Review Your Work Thoroughly - Once you’ve finished writing, go through your work and read it thoroughly. Get another set of eyes or two on it as well, as it’s entirely possible that by reading and re-reading it so much, you’ll start to overlook things that a fresh reader wouldn’t

With so many sources of innovative ideas, great sayings and incredible findings all around us, it should be easy and commonplace for us to give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, with that ease of access also comes the ease of taking other people’s ideas and concepts and rebranding them as our own. By understanding how to properly cite sources, you’ll not only be protecting your integrity as a writer, but you’ll also be taking steps to avoid any professional (or academic) repercussions that can take place if you do plagiarize unintentionally. 

Now that you know what steps to take, the only step left is for you to go out there and share your own knowledge with confidence, being sure to acknowledge all of the others who have helped you bring your own ideas to light.

Sherice Jacob

Plagiarism Expert Sherice Jacob brings over 20 years of experience to digital marketing as a copywriter and content creator. With a finger on the pulse of AI and its developments, she works extensively with Originality.AI to help businesses and publishers get the best returns from their Content.

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