How to Avoid Plagiarism in Academic Writing

March 20, 2024

In a special guest blog, Professor of Practice in Intelligence & Global Security at Capitol Technology University, Dr. Joshua Sinai gives his insights into the issue of plagiarism. With the growing use of AI-generated content in today’s academia and workplace environments, it is important to define exactly what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, giving proper credit to the intellectual property and wealth of informational sources that can found both online and in print. This article is based on the author’s Letter to the Editor, “A Wider Lens on Plagiarism,” The Washington Post, June 26, 2024,

By Dr. Joshua Sinai

Recent cases of plagiarism by prominent academics have highlighted a pervasive problem challenging academic writers and university students. This is especially problematic in the age of the Internet, where information for one’s papers and books is easily accessible and copying and pasting passages from such publications is as instantaneous as the click of a mouse. 

What is plagiarism? According to the University of Oxford, it is defined as “presenting work or ideas from another source as your own, with or without consent of the original author, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement” (University of Oxford, “Plagiarism: Information about what plagiarism is, and how you can avoid it,” [no date or page number], As the Oxford definition adds, “the necessity to acknowledge others’ work or ideas applies not only to text, but also to other media, such as computer code, illustrations, graphs, etc. It applies equally to published text and data drawn from books and journals, and to unpublished text and data, whether from lectures, theses or other students’ essays. You must also attribute text, data, or other resources downloaded from websites” (Ibid.).   

The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in academic and student writing is making plagiarism an even exponentially larger problem. As the University of Oxford definition explains, AI “can only be used within assessments where specific prior authorisation has been given, or when technology that uses AI has been agreed as reasonable adjustment for a student’s disability (such as voice recognition software for transcriptions, or spelling and grammar checkers)” (Ibid.).  

Note that Capitol Technology University, like other universities, is in the process of publishing guidelines on the use of AI by students, and, correspondingly, by faculty members, as well.  

What constitutes proper citation? In my approach, it is not sufficient to merely cite the work of others while not providing the page numbers for the information, which is a widespread problem in academic writing. For example, the practice of paraphrasing or quoting a passage by another author at the end of the relevant sentence, listing in a parenthesis a publication’s author, title of article or book, and date – but not providing the specific page numbers from the article or book. To me, this is insufficient as it gives the impression that the author has read the entire publication, when, in fact, only an abstract might have been drawn upon. Such negligence prevents the reader from vetting the cited information for accuracy that the information was actually drawn from the cited publication and not made up by the writer. [Note that in my citations in this article I indicate whether a page number was present.] 

A related problem in academic writing that is not sufficiently highlighted is the widespread practice of joint authorship of an article or book, with one of the authors generally a senior academic and the other a junior academic or graduate student. Can the reader judge who actually researched and wrote the majority of the publication? Should this be considered another practice of plagiarism? 

Awareness of these and other plagiarism instances in academic writing will enable students and academic writers to confidently write articles and books at high academic standards. 

Dr. Joshua Sinai is a Professor of Practice in Intelligence & Global Security at Capitol Technology University. He has more than 35 years of experience in international security, national security, and homeland security studies with the U.S. government, academia, and the corporate sector. Dr. Sinai is well-published in academic journals, trade magazines, edited volumes, and training curricula. His pocket handbook “Active Shooter: A Handbook on Prevention”, published by ASIS International in 2013 and as an expanded second edition in 2016, is a best-selling book on public safety that details active shooter incidents, preparation and prevention, and tactical responses.