3 Steps for Avoiding Plagiarism

by Christine Chadwick

Have you ever experienced one of these scenarios?

  • You're typing away at an assignment due in a few hours, and you're just....stuck. Maybe you don't fully understand the material, or maybe you just realised you need to incorporate something you didn't, but whatever the case is, the clock is running out. The urge to "borrow" a passage or two is steadily becoming stronger than your desire to plow through these last few paragraphs.
  • You know what you want to say in your writing, but you're having trouble coming up with a new way to say it. You admire the author of your resource article or book and figure it won't hurt anyone if you just let them say it for you.

In either situation, you're in the danger zone for plagiarism, and getting back out of it is absolutely vital to your academic future. Plagiarism - using quotes, writing, and original ideas and presenting them as your own - is always a bad idea, and it could cost you everything from your reputation to your college/university placement. Here's how to set firm boundaries for your credibility:

1. Never cut and paste

Depending on your writing style, you may cut and paste facts and figures into your digital document to reference as you write each section. If you never place a direct passage in your writing, you're much less likely to plagiarize it. Instead, read it aloud to yourself until you understand the concept, and put the concept in your own words. This added step compels you to understand study points at a deeper level than mere memorisation and repetition.

2. Check yourself with online tools

Plagiarism checkers for students and teachers alike are easy to find for free online. Sites like PaperRater will alert you if anything you've written matches up exactly with another's writing online. Some teachers and web class portals even have this functionality built in - it's always a good idea to check your own paper before submitting, however. If you accidentally - and innocently - forgot to cite a quote, this move will also alert you to do so before submitting the paper.

3. Cite everything appropriately

Before you close a book, magazine or web page, make a note of its citation information, such as the title, date published, author, format, and so on. In your writing, mark the place where you first opened or read that resource. As you're proofreading your finished paper, connect these dots and double-check that you haven't included "naked" information that should be cited. Familiarising yourself with modern citation methods may also alleviate the temptation to skip quoting that online video, blog, or social media post that may seem daunting to cite.

Before you turn in your paper, ask a classmate or friend that's familiar with your tone to read it and highlight anything that doesn't sound like you. Plagiarism rarely happens entirely on accident, and by staying vigilant and keeping your research cleanly separated from your active writing, you'll never have to worry about running afoul of it.

Tags: Plagiarism writing citation
Categories: Writing