How Can Students Avoid Plagiarism?

For most students, time is at a premium. There’s always too much to do and too few hours… research to conduct, people to meet, papers to write, books to read, academic discussions to have, notes to take and gazillion other activities. It can get overwhelming, and many students cave to the pressure of managing all of it by taking words and ideas from others. Although it might seem like a quick fix, plagiarism has ugly effects on one’s career and character. Fundamental to the academic work you do is an expectation that you will make choices that reflect academic integrity and responsible behavior. Drawing on the work of others as you develop your own ideas is an essential and exciting component of intellectual life. If done right, a paper can convey both your original thoughts and researched material ethically and intelligently.

So how do we avoid plagiarism?

Scholars can avoid plagiarism with the right preparation, understanding the subject well, contributing useful and unique research, adding correct citations and lastly by validating the paper for plagiarism.

Before you submit the next manuscript, ask the following questions to find out whether you are being your best and most authentic self in your writing.

1. Do I have a good understanding of the topic?

When you have a good understanding of the subject you are less likely to use another person’s words and ideas. Before you start writing, dive deep into your chosen subject of research. Get as much information as you can from books, journals, videos, articles and other sources. Referring to different source material not only broadens your knowledge, it also lowers the chances that you will inadvertently copy or plagiarize. Relying on a single source of information, however, raises the probability that you will use that person’s words or ideas.

2. Do I have something to contribute to this subject?

If you have nothing new or original to say about an argument or body of research, you are summarizing or paraphrasing the work of others. Nobel-prize-winning poet T. S. Eliot sums it up succinctly when he says, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.” Enough said.

3. Are my notes thorough?

Make extensive notes, and keep careful and complete track of original sources. Cultivate the habit of recording bibliographic information about source publications, including authors, titles and page numbers, and web addresses. Always record your own source of information; never rely on another author’s footnotes. recommends the use of colored highlights to distinguish between original ideas and sourced material. Make this a best practice and it will be a breeze to complete your parenthetical references and submit your paper on time.

4. Is this idea or argument entirely my own?

This might seem like an obvious question, but sometimes it is difficult for readers to distinguish between your ideas, and work that has been done by someone else. When you build on your ideas with other sources, make sure there is a clear distinction. Sometimes even if you cite your sources, using vague language can cause inadvertent plagiarism. Readers should be in no doubt which ideas are yours. Check for plagiarism and find ways to avoid it.

5. Have I written this in my own words?

This includes even words and rough paraphrases. If the answer is no, either quote directly from the passage or rewrite it in your own words and give credit to the original author. According to the New Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, plagiarism is “the unauthorized use of the language and thought of another author and the representation of them as one’s own” (508). A good rule of thumb is to make sure that you do not copy verbatim more than two words together.

6. Do I have to cite this?

If you are using a direct quotation, paraphrasing or summarizing another person’s ideas, borrowing an idea, or using facts that are not common knowledge, you have to cite the original source. This includes tables, maps, graphs and data. Learn to use footnotes, endnotes and parenthetical references. It will add credibility to your argument and strengthen your paper by proving that you have conducted research yourself, and are capable of processing ideas and adding to them. Don’t forget to put quotes in quotation marks.

7. Have I done everything I can to avoid plagiarism?

Using plagiarism checking services like those provided by Editage are a great way to assess your paraphrasing and other anti-plagiarism skills. Powerful plagiarism checker software gives you the opportunity to avoid career suicide, understand what plagiarism is and give it a wide berth. It could spell the difference between excitement and embarrassment.

Success story or flop show?
So whether your research is read hundreds of readers around the world, or only by your professor, people in your university, colleagues, or family, citing your sources correctly should be par for the course. There is a fine but very distinct line between educational innovation and intellectual thievery. It’s easy to get ahead of plagiarism. Make it a habit to start your research early, incorporate information using quotations or paraphrases, give credit where it is due and discover how to use various citation styles like MLA to cite information. And when you’ve done everything you can, there’s always Editage’s plagiarism check service. It makes it so simple to improve academic accountability, prevent plagiarism and promote ethical writing practices. As you grow in your career, these best practices will stand you in good stead. You can quote me on that.

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