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APA 6th Edition Guide

6 Tips to Avoid Inadvertent Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Below is the definition of plagiarism as it appears in the Rasmussen University course catalog and syllabi:

Plagiarism is the act of representing an individual's or organization's words, thoughts, or ideas as one's own. 

Examples of plagiarism include:

  1. Using information (a paraphrase or quotation, in whole or in part) from a source without attempting to give credit to the author of that source.
  2. Using charts, illustrations, images, figures, equations, etc., without citing the source.
  3. Using an academic exercise (in whole or in part) purchased or copied from a ghostwriter or paper/essay mill.
  4. Copyright infringement or piracy, including the use, alteration, or duplication of media, software, code, or information when expressly prohibited or where copyright exists or is implied.


One common form of plagiarism occurs when students do not cite information discussed in an assignment. If it is new information, including information discussed in a discussion forum, the source needs to be cited.  

Example: You have an assignment that you give your thoughts on a provided case study. As you are explaining the case study, you would need to cite the case study in the in-text citation as well as in the reference page.  You are giving information that you did not know prior to writing the assignment.

Note: To ensure you are not plagiarizing, always cite (document) your sources when you refer to information you learned during your research or study.  Even if you've summarized the information or if you've rephrased it into your own words, you still need to cite the source of the information.

Remember the basic rule of plagiarism:  if you use, mention, refer to, quote, summarize, paraphrase, describe...someone's else's ideas or facts, other than your own, you must cite them.  There is the whole area of "common knowledge," example: the United States has 50 states, which you do not have to cite.  

New to APA formatting? Start by viewing our APA Basics webinar or exploring our APA Guide and Writing Guide

Then, consider connecting with a Rasmussen University Librarian through Chat or in a Research AppointmentPeer Tutors also provide support for a course, APA assistance, or Writing support. 

Need help with plagiarism? Click here to view an Answer on where you can submit your paper for plagiarism review. 

Plagiarized vs. Paraphrased


  • A detailed restatement of a source's main ideas in your own words.
  • Not your opinions or interpretations of those ideas.

When incorporating a paraphrase into your writing, you will need to provide a citation, just as you would for a direct quotation. Even though you are writing in our own words, you are paraphrasing someone else's ideas. The ideas are not your own. 

When paraphrasing, you need to be careful to not plagiarize. Here are some helpful tips for paraphrasing: 

  • Read the whole passage first before restating.
  • Make sure you completely understand the passage. 
  • Write down key information from the source.
  • Put the original aside, and then re-write the passage in your own words using the key information. 
  • Follow the rule of 3:
    • Three consecutive words that are identical to the original are considered a quotation and should be cited as a direct quote. It is no longer a paraphrase.

Let's take a look at an example:

Original Passage: 

  • University of Tulsa psychologist Judy Berry studied seventy-three Oklahoma eighth graders who had taken a parenting course.  For ten days, each student had to care for a ten-pound sack of flour as if it were a baby.  Berry’s research on her young subjects suggests the course worked: The teenagers in the study had a sounder sense of parental responsibility than they did before they took the course.

Plagiarized Version: 

  • University of Tulsa psychologist Judy Berry conducted a study of eight graders who had taken a ten day parenting course. Students had to treat a ten-pound sack of flour as if it were a baby. According to Berry’s research, the course worked. After the course, students had a better understanding of parental responsibility than they did before they took the course

(Notice that much of the text is taken directly from the original source. This passage is not in the writer's own words.)

Paraphrased Correctly Versions: 

  • Extended parental role-playing can actually increase an adolescent’s awareness of parental responsibilities as shown by psychologist Judy Berry’s study involving eighth grade students (Harper, 1996).
  • In a study of eighth grade students taking a parenting course involving role-playing, Psychologist Judy Berry determined that students were more parentally responsible after taking the course (Harper, 1996).