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NOVA Online Student Services: Understanding & Avoiding Plagiarism

This guide covers a variety of topics, from study tips to choosing a career, and much more! Direct comments to

What is Plagiarism?

The simple definition: Plagiarism is copying an author's work and passing it off as your own.

This definition may seem simple, but plagiarism can be much more complicated.  Did you know that you could be held responsible for plagiarism if you paraphrase (i.e., to put in your own words) an author's work without providing a citation?  Even if you cite your source, if paraphrasing is not done correctly, you could still be plagiarizing.  Use the resources on this page to help you in avoiding plagiarism.

Always Cite Your Sources

One of the most important ways to avoid plagiarism is to always cite your sources. Below are links to citation style guides:

Plagiarism Resources

The following websites may help you better understand and avoid plagiarism.  Remember that there are serious consequences for plagiarizing.

Direct Quotes (Using an Author's Exact Words)

  • College-level writing is about processing information and creating your own new ideas, so you should only use direct quotes (i.e., an author's exact words) when it is absolutely necessary (e.g., when an author uses unique terminology).  Other times you should summarize or paraphrase. 
  • If you do quote directly, quote only partial sentences, not full sentences or paragraphs, unless you are providing a critical analysis of a text (e.g., a story or poem).
  • Be sure that all direct quotes are enclosed with quotation marks (".").

Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Paraphrasing is taking a small excerpt from your source and putting it into your own words, whereas summarizing gives an overview of the main points from an entire source (e.g., and entire book or article).  In both cases, it is important to cite your sources.  The video below explains more.  For more detail and examples, see Purdue OWL: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing.

Common Knowledge

Information considered to be "common knowledge" does not need to be cited (unless you are directly quoting an author).  If you are unsure, err on the side of caution and cite the source.  "Common knowledge" refers to anything that you expect the readers to already know.  An example of general common knowledge is that George Washington was the first U.S. president. 

Common knowledge can also be field-specific.  For example, a nursing student would not have to cite a basic definition of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, since students and instructors in that field are familiar with the concept already.  Here are a few more examples:

Common Knowledge:

   - The sky is blue.

Not Common:

   - The physics of light refraction explains why the sky appears blue.


   - Ernest Hemingway wrote "The Sun Also Rises".

Not Common:

   - Hemingway's life experiences greatly impacted the story, characters and setting in "The Sun Also Rises".