Avoiding Plagiarism

We know that most students don't plagiarize intentionally. We know that you want credit for the work you did researching sources, and you know that citing sources helps to build your credibility as the author of an essay. Still, all writers make mistakes occasionally, but the best writers follow some simple steps that can help ensure that they don't plagiarize unintentionally. Here are some of those best practices to help you avoid plagiarism and become a better writer!

Taking Effective Notes

  • In your notes, use a special mark, like giant quotation marks, to indicate that you're quoting someone directly. Be sure your mark is obvious enough that you won't forget later what your original intention was.
  • Differentiate between ideas you got from a source and those you came to on your own using margin notes like MINE and SOURCE, or just M and S.
  • Record everything you'll need in an end reference while you're researching. Jot down the authors' names, the publishers, the dates, the titles, and (for web sources) the date you looked at the webpage and URL. That way, you won't need to hunt this information down again later.

Writing Paraphrases or Summaries

  • Be sure that you understand the material you are trying to paraphrase or summarize before you begin working. Use the thesaurus, dictionary, and other resources so that you can talk about your source intelligently.
  • Whenever you can, use the source name in the paraphrase or summary. A phrase like "According to Takako Smith," will introduce your source material smoothly.
  • Try to write your paraphrase or summary from memory without looking at the original source while you write. This way, you'll be less likely to plagiarize by accident.
  • Then, check your paraphrase or summary against the original to correct any errors and place quotation marks around phrases that are exactly the same between your document and the original.
  • Always cite your paraphrased and summarized material properly.

Using Direct Quotations

  • Quote just enough to get the job done. Don't quote a whole paragraph, or even a whole sentence, if only a few important words will do.
  • When you're choosing which quotes to use, select those quotes that will have the strongest effect on your paper. Using too many sources will weaken their impact and will make your paper sound disjointed -- half in your voice, half in other people's voices.
  • Use the source material's author in the sentence, when possible, and cite your quoted material properly.
  • Always try to give a context for the author's authority. (Not-so-good: Takako Smith says, "The most important protector of democracy is the well-informed voter." Better: Takako Smith, an analyst at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, says, "The most important protector of democracy is the well-informed voter.")

Protecting Your Own Work

The OWL at Purdue has some good advice for students trying to prevent plagiarism of their own work:

"Sometimes innocent, hard-working students are accused of plagiarism because a dishonest student steals their work. This can happen in all kinds of ways, from a roommate copying files off of your computer, to someone finding files on a disk or pen drive left in a computer lab. Here are some practices to keep your own intellectual property safe:

  • Do not save your paper in the same file over and over again; use a numbering system and the Save As... function. E.g., you might have research_paper001.doc, research_paper002.doc, research_paper003.doc as you progress. Do the same thing for any HTML files you're writing for the Web. Having multiple draft versions may help prove that the work is yours.
  • Maintain copies of your drafts in numerous media, and different secure locations when possible; don't just rely on your hard drive or pen drive.
  • Password-protect your computer; if you have to leave a computer lab for a quick bathroom break, hold down the Windows key and L to lock your computer without logging out.
  • Password-protect your files; this is possible in all sorts of programs, from Adobe Acrobat to Microsoft Word (just be sure not to forget the password!)" (Link to original)

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