Academia takes the issue of plagiarism very seriously; the sheer accusation of it has left a shadow over the careers of even the most prestigious scholars (click here for an interesting list of famous plagiarism incidents). It is extremely important to avoid all iterations of plagiarism when developing your dissertation. We’re here to help you to identify plagiarism and provide some simple guidelines for avoiding it.

What Is Plagiarism?


Thankfully, academic plagiarism has definite parameters. While each university (and often each doctoral program) has their own code of academic conduct, most of them share a basic definition of plagiarism (for example, here is Harvard University’s definition of plagiarism). In short, plagiarism is committed when you present someone else’s idea as your own or don’t properly cite information from preexisting sources. There are two basic forms of plagiarism: (1) using the exact wording from an existing source (i.e., book, article, newspaper, class lecture, etc.) without using quotation marks to identify the quoted content and citing its source; (2) describing or appropriating concepts or information learned from another source without citing it.

Plagiarism can be as short as four words in a row or as long and vague as your dissertation’s entire premise. Whether intentional or inadvertent, it is critically important to carefully avoid plagiarism throughout the dissertation-writing process.

Why Is Plagiarism Wrong or Harmful?


Aside from being dishonest, one of the main problems with academic plagiarism is that it undermines the scholarly process. Plagiarism steals from the hard work of previous scholars without given credit where it is due. Your dissertation is meant to be an original piece of scholarship that offers new insights into your field of study. While your dissertation will be supported and corroborated by a wealth of previous literature, it must be clear exactly how your dissertation is situated within the scholarship of your field.

What Are The Risks of Being Caught Plagiarizing?


Whether intentional or unintentional, plagiarism’s risks far outweigh any possible benefit. While unintentional plagiarism may just bring a stiff reprimand from your doctoral advisor, if the plagiarism is proven to be intentional, you stand to be expelled from your university and barred from ever realizing your dream of earning your PhD.

While the World Wide Web has made it even easier to plagiarize—as copying and pasting information from a book or a website into your working document takes only a few seconds—the Information Age has also made it easier for inquiring minds to catch those who have played fast and loose with their sources. Websites like and Plagium make it very easy for your advisor to tell if your content is the least bit unoriginal. Not only will these sites show what content has been plagiarized, they will reveal the source from which the content was derived.

How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism


Plagiarism is a danger even if you don’t mean to do it. Lazy practices such as not using quotations marks around unique phrases can leave you vulnerable to what can best be termed “accidental plagiarism.” The verdict is still out on whether the late historian Stephen Ambrose intentionally used identical phrases from another historian. Ambrose apologized publicly, though he argued that he was merely guilty of sloppy research practices rather than academic dishonesty. His reputation has forever been tarnished as a result. Don’t let something similar happen to your dissertation after years of grueling doctoral research—be careful to cite ALL your sources.

In order to avoid plagiarism, quotation marks and parentheses may be your most important allies. Use them religiously during the draft phases of the dissertation writing process—even if it’s only three or four words strung together that you liked from another source, quote and cite them. In academia, especially in the humanities, it’s difficult to over-cite your sources. Those reading your work prefer to see the footprint of where you have been intellectually—what you have read and how you came to your conclusions. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and cite your source.

While you should always cite your sources, your dissertation committee does not want to read a dissertation full of quotations. Overusing quotations implies to the reader that you don’t have anything original to say. You should paraphrase (i.e., completely rewrite) and synthesize quotations into your own thoughts and words as much as possible—especially with secondary sources. While directly quoting primary sources can be necessary for some disciplines (history and religious studies in particular), in general, a dissertation should be replete with your own thoughts and insights about both primary source content and previous scholarship. Avoid direct quotations whenever possible. (Are you unsure of the difference between a primary and secondary source? Click here for Princeton University’s definition.)

Another helpful tool to avoid plagiarism is a citation and research management software like EndNote. EndNote will help you organize your sources and centralize all your research into one place. You can also download important articles and texts to keep on hand for later use. This way, if you wonder whether a certain phrase is yours or someone else’s, you can do a quick online search to be sure. If you’re unfamiliar with EndNote and how it can be useful to the dissertation writing process, please click here to read a brief overview of the software and its usefulness to doctoral students.



Don’t plagiarize! It might seem like a little plagiarism or sloppy source work increases the efficiency of the dissertation process, but aside from being intellectually deceitful and putting you in danger of expulsion, it is also counterproductive to your long-term career viability. Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin had to resign from the Pulitzer committee and from PBS MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour after it came to light that she had used significant portions of another book in her 1987 work on the Kennedy family. She is not the first prominent scholar to lose credibility, and she most certainly won’t be the last. Luckily, with some careful effort, plagiarism is easy to avoid.

Need More Help to Avoid Plagiarism?


Are you struggling with identifying potential plagiarism issues in your dissertation? Are you nervous about whether or not some of your writing might be considered plagiarism? At, we can help to make sure that your dissertation or thesis is completely original. Feel free to call or e-mail us at any time to discuss your concerns directly with a dissertation consultant—free of charge! We can review your dissertation in depth and show you exactly which portions will need to be rephrased to ensure the academic integrity of your dissertation. In addition, we can review your citations and references and ensure that they are complete and in the proper citation style (including APA 6th Ed., Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, and many more).

Call now to speak directly to one of our dissertation experts: 857-600-2241



Flaherty, Colleen. “Beyond Plagiarism.” Inside Higher Ed. Accessed March 24, 2014.

Herrington, TyAnna K. Intellectual Property on Campus: Students’ Rights and Responsibilities. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2010.

Robin, Ron. Scandals and Scoundrels: Seven Cases that Shook the Academy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Sutherland-Smith, Wendy. Plagiarism, the Internet and Student Learning. New York: Routledge, 2008.
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