How to avoid plagiarism in your research?

Are you worried that you unintentionally plagiarise someone? Learn about techniques and tools that will help you avoid plagiarism in your research!

When writing academic manuscripts, we need to present novel ideas, thoughts and discoveries.

But to ensure that the readers of your work understand what you’re talking about, you need to provide them with relevant context and background that presents the current state-of-the-art in your field.

From the discussions I had with you, I’ve realised that many of you are worried about plagiarism and want to know how to avoid plagiarism in your writing.

I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on what you should pay attention to when writing. I trust these will help you to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Plagiarism definition

Before I start talking about the ways to avoid plagiarism, let’s define what plagiarism is.


According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary, plagiarism is an act of intentional or unintentional copying of someone else’s work and presenting it as your own.

The most common types of plagiarism include:

  • direct plagiarism that occurs when you directly copy (i.e. word-for-word) someone else’s work;
  • self-plagiarism that occurs when you submit and publish the same paper in several different journals;
  • mosaic plagiarism that occurs when you slightly modify the original sentences and phrases without using quotation marks; and
  • accidental plagiarism that occurs when you forget to include a reference use wrong quotes or use similar sentences unintentionally.

The last one is rather difficult to avoid, especially when you use jargon relevant to your field. For example, I often use the phrase “carbon capture, utilisation and storage” in my work which will get picked up by any plagiarism tools I use.

Remember, if you’re using tools to check your text for plagiarism (see more on these in the last section), be critical about the results. Use common sense to decide whether you may have plagiarised something.

If you’re not sure, ask your colleague, supervisor or us for the advice!

Ways to avoid plagiarism

Now that you know what the definition of plagiarism is and what are different types of plagiarism, let’s discuss actions you can take in your academic writing to stay away from plagiarising someone else’s work.

Don’t copy-paste! 

This seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many people plagiarise others and their own work. According to Plagiarism.org, 40% graduate and undergraduate students “admitted to cheating on written assignments”. This is a massive number.

I trust none of you is doing it! After all, research is about being able to critically appraise information in the current literature and use your reflections to present your point of view.

Acknowledge your sources

Efficient management of your sources, i.e. using tools that can support your literature review, is key to successfully avoiding plagiarism.

If you manage your references properly, you’ll avoid misquoting or missing relevant citations in your work. As a result, you’ll be more organised, keep your references in order, and will never forget to cite the work of others that you use to support your own work.

Paraphrase and quote properly

When writing a literature review or a background section, you need to use other sources. It’s implied that you need to refer to them and in some way use the information they provide. To do so, you can either paraphrase or quote that particular source.

You can use paraphrasing when explaining specific idea, concept or framework from a specific source using your own words. This will include only the most important information that supports your argument. Make sure you refer back to this source!

You can use quotes when you want to use a sentence or a phrase word-for-word in your own work. Make sure such quotation is clearly distinguished with quotation marks and that it’s clear where this quotation is coming from.

In academic writing, we tend to paraphrase a lot and use quotes only for definitions or when it’s nearly impossible to paraphrase a given passage without changing its meaning.

Check your draft for plagiarism

Last but not least, before you submit your work to a journal or as a part of your PhD, it’s crucial to check whether you haven’t missed anything.

Your work is likely to be checked by the editors or markers for plagiarism anyway, but it may be too late to avoid rejection.

There are several tools that you can use to check your work, including:

Some of these tools are available free of charge, so why don’t you give it a go?

I use Grammarly (I pay for premium plan) and TurnItIn (via university) to check my documents for plagiarism.  

A final word…

Research is the act of creating new knowledge and improving the understanding of the world that surrounds us.

To advance knowledge, we usually build on what we already know. It’s, therefore, crucial to acknowledge those who created the knowledge we use in our work.

Plagiarism may seem scary. But if you follow the simple steps of:

  • not copying someone else’s work, 
  • properly paraphrasing and quoting their work, 
  • and efficiently managing your references

you won’t have anything to worry about.

Whether you’re early career researcher or experienced academic, it’s always good to check your work for plagiarism.

Even though you don’t have the slightest intention to copy someone else’s work, it’ll give you peace of mind before submission.

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Academic Coach at Motivated Academic, senior lecturer at Cranfield University, UK.

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