Skip to main content
Li Ka Shing Library

How do I Avoid Committing Plagiarism in My Legal Writing: Tips

The DO's

A.    Plan your paper

Planning your paper well is the first and most important step you can take toward preventing plagiarism.  You need to plan how to integrate information from external sources into your paper. This means working out a balance between the ideas you have taken from other sources and your own, original ideas.  Writing an outline, or coming up with a thesis statement in which you clearly formulate an argument about the information you find, will help establish the boundaries between your ideas and those of your sources. You should use your idea as the focus of your paper and use other's (words and ideas) sparingly. Your reader wants to read your work, not copies of other people's works. Do not wait until the last minute to write your paper. Plagiarism usully comes with the need to save time!

B.    Take effective notes

One of the best ways to prepare for a research paper is by taking thorough notes from all of your sources, so that you have much of the information organized before you begin writing.  On the other hand, poor note-taking can lead to many problems – including improper citations and misquotations, both of which are forms of plagiarism!  To avoid confusion about your sources, try using different colored fonts, pens, or pencils for each one, and make sure you clearly distinguish your own ideas from those you found elsewhere.   Also, get in the habit of marking page numbers, and make sure that you record bibliographic information or web addresses for every source right away – finding them again later when you are trying to finish your paper can be a nightmare!

Use citation management software (e.g. Mendeley) to help you create appropriate citations quickly.

C.   When in doubt, cite sources

If it is unclear whether an idea in your paper really came from you, or whether you got it from somewhere else and just changed it a little, you should always cite your source.  Instead of weakening your paper and making it seem like you have fewer original ideas, this will actually strengthen your paper by: 1) showing that you are not just copying other ideas but are processing and adding to them, 2) lending outside support to the ideas that are completely yours, and 3) highlighting the originality of your ideas by making clear distinctions between them and ideas you have gotten elsewhere.

Use quotation marks/block quotes when you are citing directly.

Quotation marks (integrated into the main paragraph)
"But there can be plagiarism without publication, as in the case of student plagiarism. The fraud is directed in the first instance at the teacher.... But its principal victims are the plagiarist's student competitors, who are analogous to authors who compete with a plagiarist." (Posner, 2007, pp. 106-107)

Block quotes (a standalone paragraph with indent)

But there can be plagiarism without publication, as in the case of student plagiarism. The fraud is directed in the first instance at the teacher.... But its principal victims are the plagiarist's student competitors, who are analogous to authors who compete with a plagiarist. (Posner, 2007, pp. 206-207)

D.    Make it clear who said what

Even if you cite sources, ambiguity in your phrasing can often disguise the real source of any given idea, causing inadvertent plagiarism.  Make sure  when you mix your own ideas with those of your sources that you always clearly distinguish them.  If you are discussing the ideas of more than one person, watch out for confusing pronouns.  For example, if you are talking about Harold Bloom’s discussion of James Joyce’s opinion of Shakespeare, and you write: “He brilliantly portrayed the situation of a writer in society at that time.”  Who is the “He” in this sentence?  Bloom, Joyce, or Shakespeare?  Who is the “writer”: Joyce,  Shakespeare, or one of their characters?  Always make sure to distinguish who said what, and give credit to the right person. 

E.    Know how to paraphrase:

A paraphrase is a restatement in your own words of someone else’s ideas.  Changing a few words of the original sentences does NOT make your writing a legitimate paraphrase.  You must change both the words and the sentence structure of the original, without changing the content.  Also, you should keep in mind that paraphrased passages still require citation because the ideas came from another source, even though you are putting them in your own words.    

The purpose of paraphrasing is not to make it seem like you are drawing less directly from other sources or to reduce the number of quotations in your paper.  It is a common misconception among students that you need to hide the fact that you rely on other sources.  Actually it is advantageous to highlight the fact that other sources support your own ideas.  Using quality sources to support your ideas makes them seem stronger and more valid.  Good paraphrasing makes the ideas of the original source fit smoothly into your paper, emphasizing the most relevant points and leaving out unrelated information. 

When paraphrasing, try to write in your own words without looking at the original text and always remember to credit the source.

F.   Evaluate your sources

Not all sources on the web are worth citing – in fact, many of them are just plain wrong.  So how do you tell the good ones apart?  For starters, make sure you know the author(s) of the page, where they got their information, and when they wrote it (getting this information is also an important step in avoiding plagiarism!).  Then you should determine how credible you feel the source is: how well they support their ideas, the quality of the writing, the accuracy of the information provided, etc.  We recommend using Portland Community College’s “rubrics for evaluating web pages” as an easy method of testing the credibility of your sources. 

G. Check for self-plagiarism

Be careful when you want to recycle your own previous assignment. It might end up as self-plagiarism and get you in trouble. Consult your instructor if you are unsure about the integrity of your work.

Source: From document provided by and Research Resources

The use of electronic resources must comply with the Appropriate Use of Electronic Resources Policy and Singapore Management University Acceptable Use Policy