Thursday, 10 May 2012

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is when you copy or use someone else's ideas and present them as your own. Sometimes people do this on purpose: they cut and paste a whole chunk of text from Wikipedia or another source directly into their essay without quote marks or a footnote. They buy or download free essays from the internet. This article is not for them. Here's an interesting article on buying an essay on-line.

This article is about how to avoid accidental plagiarism. For an on-line check of your essay for accidental plagiarism, click the link below.


Plagiarism also includes purchasing an essay (or getting it for free) and handing it in as your own work. Many schools consider it plagiarism to hand in all or part of the same essay for two different classes even if you wrote it yourself, unless the teacher agrees first. The point of any essay assignment is for you to do the research and writing yourself.

Plagiarism is a form of cheating. Most schools take plagiarism very seriously and academic discipline ranges from getting a zero grade for the assignment to automatically failing the course and even expulsion.

More often, plagiarism happens by accident. When you are reading a lot and looking through a lot of information in your research, it's easy to accidentally use a phrase or more in your essay that should be attributed to the original source.

Plagiarism is particularly a problem for on-line educational institutions. On-line colleges can't sit you down in a class for a written assignment. On-line classes can't tell it you wrote something yourself. As a result on-line course go to great lengths to ensure you don't engage in plagiarism.

On-line colleges have the advantage of having everything you write in electronic format. This means it is very easy for them to analyze the originality of your writing through services such as turnitin.com. This web service analyzes your writing against all known texts, looking for similarities. You must be extremely careful with your citations to ensure you don't plagiarize by accident.

The time to begin is when you are reading and taking notes.

  1. Always make a note of a source when you are taking notes. Even bookmarking a link can make it easy to go back later to note the source when your are writing your reference section.
  2. When you take notes put quotation marks around any direct quotes so you will know later that the words are not your own.
  3. Make sure every paragraph has at least one reference in it. If you have a paragraph with no reference, either you have not said anything substantial in the paragraph, or you have not documented the reference source. Even if two or three paragraphs in a row talk about ideas from the same source, document the source again.
  4. For direct quotes you must note the page where the quote is to be found. For paraphrases or basic references you simply need to note which work you used. One of the big differences between MLA style and APA style is how you document sources.
How do you know when to use quotes and when to simply footnote? How do you know when it's OK to just use the information without any risk of plagiarism. Let's look at the second question first.
Is the information freely available from a variety of sources? We call this information "common knowledge." Plagiarism does not apply to information that is available from many sources. For example, today I can pick up any newspaper and see that Barak Obama is the President of the United States. I don't have to footnote that.

On the other hand if I don't know who the President of Zambia is, I can look it up and I don't have to footmark that either because it is available from lots of sources. But I might want to footnote it to make sure my readers believe me. More importantly if I was to tell you the population of Zambia, I would probably want to footnote that because it is a specific statistic and to be credible, I should state where I got that fact from.

When you write a college research essay it's a little more challenging to avoid plagiarism. First, all the information you are getting is from a special source, not general knowledge. Second, there are a lot of ideas to keep straight. What you should do is do your research in note form. Just compile facts from each source in point form. If you find a complete sentence, or most of a sentence, with a really good point, then copy down that sentence with quotation marks.

The reason it's important to make notes in point form is to avoid using another person's words as much as possible. When you use the points in your sentences, you will be constructing original sentences from the points and you will be sure that you don't need to put things in quotation marks. However, you will still need to acknowledge the source of the ideas.

In your essay as you discuss the points you should just include acknowledgement in the body of the essay (in APA format: Smith, 2009). Each paragraph in which you discuss points from some author should have acknowledgement of that author's work. Either put in a reference, as above or incorporate it into a sentence like this: "According to Smith (2009) the...." When you use a direct quote, enclose it in quotation marks followed by the reference with a page number. "Ten species of terrible toads took twelve trips" (Smith, 2009, 46). Note that the period ending the sentence comes after the parenthetical reference.