Avoiding Plagiarism

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify instances of plagiarism in an essay.
  • Use proper citing of sources to avoid plagiarism.

PlagiarismThe act of taking someone else's ideas, words, or work and pass it off as your own; copying without giving credit. occurs any time you use another person's words, thoughts, or ideasA thought, opinion, or impression. without giving credit to that person. Some people think that plagiarism is just copying another person's writing word for word, but it is often more subtle than that. ParaphrasingThe use of different words to express the meaning of an original text or speech. from one or more sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. without properly citingTo give credit to the source of ideas or information. them is also plagiarism. Because people do much researchThe use of outside sources as well as investigations and observations in order to form ideas and support claims. Also, the information obtained from such efforts. and writing online, plagiarizing—whether accidental or deliberate—is very easy to do. Plagiarism is a serious offense in both the academic and professional worlds and can lead to expulsion from school or being fired from a job.

Using readily available electronic tools makes it extremely easy for professors, bosses, and others to detect plagiarism. In this lesson, you will learn seven steps to make sure you avoid plagiarism in your writing.

  1. Focus on your own ideas.

Remember that people who read your writing are interested in your ideas, not those of other people. Only use other people's ideas to back up your own claimsA statement that something is true, such as the thesis of an essay. A successful writer must present evidence to prove his/her claim.. In general, outside sources should only make up about a third of an essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. ; the rest of the ideas should be yours. While it is, of course, important to research your topic, it is possible to over-research. If you spend too much time investigating what other people think about a topicThe subject of a reading. , you might neglect to develop your own ideas. It is also more likely that you could accidentally plagiarize other people's work.

  1. Plan your essay.

You may need to do quite a bit of research before you begin writing, but after you have an idea of the direction you would like your essay to take, put your notes away and plan what you want to communicate to your readers. Your own claims should drive your essay. Once you have outlinedA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. and brainstormedA prewriting technique where the author lists multiple ideas as he or she thinks of them, not considering one more than another until all ideas are captured. The objective is to create one great idea, or many ideas, on which to base a writing., you will understand what you want to say and then you can focus on supporting your claims with the factsA piece of information that can be proven. Something that is true and indisputable., details, and examples from outside sources. This way you make sure that you, and not your evidence, control the outcome of your essay.

  1. Take good notes.

Sometimes plagiarism is the effect of taking poor notes. When you do not know where you found material, you will not know how to citeTo give credit to the source of ideas or information. it. Instead of not citing a source or citing it incorrectly, make sure that you record all the important information as soon as you encounter a new source. There are many different strategies for recording notes and sources; figure out what strategy works best for you. If you use several digital sources, you might want to develop a folder on your computer where you can keep all of your digital versions of journal articles. Use the authorA person who wrote a text. and title name as your file name to keep it all sorted. Or you might want to use note cards. On one card, jot down the source's information like author, date, and title, then give that card a number. Then write down any facts, details, and examples that come from that source on separate cards, but use the same number to identify each card as the same source. Then when you use that piece of evidence, you will know where it came from. These are just two of many ways that will ensure that you keep your evidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim. organized so that you can cite it when you need to.

  1. Understand your topic and your material.

Some students fall into the trap of plagiarizing because they do not understand what they are supposed to be writing about. When you take the time to understand your topic, you will be far less likely to plagiarize. Take steps to better understand your subjectThe people, places, things, or ideas being discussed or described. . This may require talking to a tutor or your professor. When you fully understand your topic, you will be able to explain it in your own words. Remember, you still need to cite paraphrased ideas if they are not already commonly known.

  1. Do not copy and paste.

Avoid copying and pasting sources, even when you plan to directly quote a source; this can make it much too easy to plagiarize. If you place copied and pasted information directly into your writing without making notations, you might even forget that you used another's material word for word. Instead, type direct quotationsAn exact copy of the words from a speech or text. These words are placed inside quotation marks to show that they are a perfect repeat of the original. directly into your source information, outline, or essay. If you plan to paraphrase, read and understand the passage and then write the thought in your own words. Either way, be sure to cite your source correctly.

  1. Cite your sources.

Whether you quote, paraphrase, or summarizeTo give a short version of the main points of a text. an outside source, you must make it clear that it is another's work. You can use attributive phrasesA short introduction to source material that identifies the author and often the title of a work that will be quoted or discussed in an essay or research paper. , in-text citationsInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using., and a works cited pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper. or references pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an APA-formatted essay or research paper. to help your readers locate your outside sources.

  1. Use a plagiarism checker.

If you are still concerned about plagiarism in your writing, use a plagiarism checker. There are a number of different services available online, and your college may have already purchased one for your use. You can also submit your essay to a tutoring service; the tutors will be able to help you avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Following these seven steps will help ensure that you avoid plagiarizing. It is also recommended that you save every draft that you write, beginning from idea gathering to your final draftThe last version of a writing that has been revised, edited, and proofread.. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for a student to copy from another student in his/her class. If you are ever in this situation, it will be very useful if you can show your instructor all of your drafts. Digital versions are especially helpful as they are time-stamped and can show who wrote the essay first.

Finally, international students should keep in mind that plagiarism is a serious issue in the United States. In some educational systems, copying well-respected experts is expected of students, and the individual perspective of the student is a less important aspect than it is in Western cultures. You need to be aware that American colleges and companies expect students and employees to cite outside work and will penalize those who do not, even if it is due to a cultural misunderstanding.