The Best Advice in Avoiding Plagiarism

Ask Your Teacher!

Jonathan Bailey ,
Contributing Editor

When it comes to avoiding plagiarism, there are a lot of skills any student should have: Paraphrasing, citation, proper note taking, and time management just to name a few.

However, one of the most important skills is also among the least discussed: Communicating with your teacher.

While honor codes, online guides, and tutors are great resources for learning how to avoid plagiarism, in the classroom the teacher is the ultimate arbiter of what is and what is not plagiarism.

However, that authority can often make it feel like a teacher is less an educator and more of a plagiarism police officer-- as if they are simply there to catch and punish anyone who commits plagiarism, even unwittingly.

But teachers are there to help students learn and that includes learning about citation, attribution and other tools for avoiding plagiarism.

This includes everything from more basic issues, such as what citation format/style to use and what are acceptable sources, to more complicated ones, such as proper paraphrasing and what facts require citation.

Whether you have a general question about citation or are genuinely in one of the gray areas of plagiarism, your teacher should be your first and best resource.

Talking to your teacher about plagiarism can be intimidating as it is a difficult subject, especially when there’s a fear of getting in trouble. That being said, there are a few things you can do to make talking with your teacher easier and more effective.

  1. Have a Specific Question: Talking about plagiarism through vague hypotheticals is rarely a good way to get a good answer. Instead, have a specific question about an assignment in mind and use your actual work as the example. This ensures that you can get the answer you need as quickly and as directly as possible.
  2. Phrase the Question Positively: When asking about plagiarism, it’s usually best not to ask it in terms of how not to plagiarize, but rather, how to cite or include something correctly. Instead of asking, “Is this plagiarism?” ask “How should I cite this if I want to include it?”
  3. Find the Right Time: As with most questions for your teacher, timing is important. Don’t ask your question when they are busy with other students or preparing for another class. Visit them either during office hours or outside of school hours. Make sure that they have the time to sit down and go over the issue with you.

In the end, while asking your teachers about plagiarism-related issues may seem like you’re bothering them, it’s exactly what they want.

One of the great frustrations many teachers have over plagiarism issues is that students often don’t seem to understand and don’t ask. So, if you are uncertain on an attribution or citation issue, ask your teacher. They’ll probably be very glad you did!