What Plagiarism Is and How to Avoid It
“Plagiarism” comes from the Latin word for “kidnapper.” It’s using another person’s ideas or words without giving them credit. Simple indeed.
Here’s another thing that’s pretty simple: catching a plagiarist in the act. Try it yourself. Pick up a nearby book, open it randomly, and Google any old sentence you come to. I did that just now with Into the Wild, by John Krakauer, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, by Partha Chatterjee, and The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingue Rinpoche. The sentence I Googled came up in the first three hits each time.
There are also tons of online and software-based tools available to teachers catch plagiarism. Many instructors and entire schools and universities now require students to turn their work in electronically so it can be run through such anti-plagiarism programs as a general precaution.
And when people (students and professionals) are caught for plagiarism, the consequences can be severe.
Being a student is hard work, especially writing papers. The research, the thinking, the writing, the documentation: it can be overwhelming.
But there’s no need to let worries about plagiarism make writing papers harder. These are a few simple things to include in your writing practice so that you can easily avoid plagiarism:
- If you are using the exact words from another author’s work into your own work—no matter how few words—treat them as a quotation. Make it completely clear you’re quoting by using quotation marks or a block format (if it’s long) and cite the source.
- Understand “paraphrasing” means to convey another person’s idea using your own words. No quotation marks are needed around your paraphrase, but it’s plagiarism if you do not cite the source.
- When you are doing research, take organized notes and make sure to write down accurate information about your sources. This way, when you go back to cite your sources in your paper, you don’t have to spend hours looking through books, journals, Internet resources, and scraps of paper to figure out where you found that perfect quote to support your argument.
- Cite your sources correctly. Sometimes people feel bogged down by this because the rules of proper citation are pretty detailed, but it’s not that bad. Just make sure you know what style guide your professor wants you to use (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), find a resource on how to cite using that style guide, and keep it handy as you are writing. If you don’t have access to a printed edition of the style guide you need to use, there are many online resources. One that I recommend to ProofreadingPal customers all the time is Purdue Owl.
Make sure you cite your sources both within your paper and in a reference list at the end of your paper. Again, consult a style guide for details on writing this list.
Finally, once you’ve done your research, written your paper, and cited your sources, have another person look over your work. You might think peer editing and proofreading are just about improving the overall quality or style of your paper (it’s that too), but they also really help to catch problems with citation and format issues.
Here at ProofreadingPal, we catch all kinds of mistakes that could look like plagiarism: missing quotation marks, citations that appear in the paper but not in the reference list and vice versa, improper paraphrasing, and incorrectly written (or missing) citations.
Plagiarism is a serious matter, but it doesn’t have to make you sweat. Just understand what it is and follow these steps to avoid it. And don’t forget to ask for help when you need it!
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