How Can You Avoid Plagiarizing?

Tips for ESL students

Sometimes ESL students plagiarize for the same reasons as native English speakers, sometimes for different reasons.

Let's take a look at why ESL students might plagiarize, and how they can avoid plagiarism in their written work.

ESL students might think, "Isn't it better to copy if my grammar isn't perfect?"

Many ESL students believe it is better to copy a native speaker's written words because they are grammatically correct. This is not true! Your thoughts and ideas, as well as your research, are what is most important in your writing. Your teacher would MUCH rather read your own words, even if the grammar is not perfect.

Your grammar IS important, but not as important as completing every writing assignment in your own words.

Sometimes ESL students feel it is an honor to copy someone's work

In some countries, sometimes using someone else's words in your essay shows respect for that person.

In the U.S., however, if the words are not cited or paraphrased, this is called "plagiarism" and is not considered fair use of the author's work.

For more information of paraphrasing and citations, view the Plagiarism and Citations Tutorial on the Online ESL Support site.

So, how can you avoid plagiarizing?

Here are three tips to help you:

Tip #1 Be sure that you understand what "plagiarism" is.

A dictionary definition of plagiarism is:

Pronunciation [pley-juh-riz-uhm] - noun
1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.

Plagiarism is directly copying someone else's words, ideas, artwork, research, or graphic work ...

... and saying it is your own.

Plagiarism is like stealing because you are taking someone else's work and saying that it is yours when it really isn't.

Tip #2 Make sure you understand the assignment.

When you don't understand the assignment, it is hard to write anything in your own words.

If you don't understand the assignment, ask your teacher or ESL support instructor to explain further. It is better to ask questions than to do the assignment wrong or to plagiarize material.

Tip #3 Give yourself plenty of time to do the work for your assignment.

Every assignment takes many steps to complete.

Use a calendar to plan for each part of the assignment. Don't make the common mistake of waiting until the last minute to start your assignment.

What do you need to plan for writing assignments?

  • Researching your topic
  • Outlining your paper
  • Writing a few drafts
  • Getting feedback from places such as the Writing Lab or OWL
  • Rewriting and submitting the final paper before the deadline

How might a plan for this look?

March 1-7: Research books, articles, internet; take notes, write down all source materials.
March 8-11:
Outline, get feedback on thesis
March 12-15:
Write Rouch Draft
March 17: Appt. w/Writing Lab
March 20-28: Rewrite
March 29:
Submit Final Paper – DUE DATE! -

If you know you have a month to the deadline for your paper, start early, plan ahead and make time for all the necessary steps.

Why plan ahead to write your paper?

When you have enough time to prepare the materials for your paper it is MUCH easier to avoid plagiarizing.

Students who do not take the time for these steps in writing a paper often panic at the last minute.

When you panic, it is too easy to plagiarize someone else's material because you didn't take the time you needed to write or create your own.

What do you need to plan for Online Discussions?

  • Reading the modules and discussion questions
  • Making notes
  • Organizing your thoughts
  • Writing out your ideas
  • Getting feedback from the Online Writing Lab (OWL)
  • Posting your discussion response(s) before the deadline
  • Reading other students posts and posting secondary discussion responses

How much time might this take?

Most online classes give you a week to complete each module.

Over a week, you might plan each part of the module following the calendar below:

Example calendar

Should you copy and paste text from the internet?

NEVER copy text from the internet or any source and paste it into your own written work.

For more information of paraphrasing and citations, view the Plagiarism and Citations Tutorial on the Online ESL Support site.

Instead of copying and pasting text:

  1. Read over your research materials.
  2. Make notes.
  3. Put the research away and write what you have to say in your own words based on your notes.
This is the safest way to avoid plagiarism!


  1. Understand what plagiarism is.
  2. Understand your assignment.
  3. Give yourself enough time to complete the assignment.