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avoid plagiarism when writing

How can you avoid plagiarism when writing? Learn how to cite the sources used

Dec 19, 2012 - Posted to  Writing in General
Accidental plagiarism is very common and usually occurs when a student unintentionally uses someone else's statements, concepts, or ideas without properly giving credit to the source of that information. This may come about as a result of cultural misinterpretations of plagiarism (for example, what is and is not acceptable in some institutions), as well as general shortcomings in citing references or difficulties in summarizing and paraphrasing. In Western societies, for the most part, an author's ideas and concepts are considered the property of that author and when using them in any type of work, whether an essay or term paper, proper credit must be given to them. Likewise, errors in referencing are most noticeable when submitting documents to educational institutions or formal publications such as newspapers and magazines, where plagiarism is readily monitored.

So, how do you avoid plagiarism?

Though the writing expectations required of most students can be a bit confusing at times (as you are expected to be creative and unique while at the same time be well-versed and familiar with other authors) people everywhere are able to turn out interesting and original material all the time. To achieve this one simply needs to adhere to some clear preventative measures to avoid plagiarism in writing.

How to successfully avoid plagiarism

*Though these ideas are not all-inclusive they do offer some sure guidance and insight into the subject matter.

Use a variety of sources

Plagiarism can easily be averted if the student doesn't heavily rely on only one or a handful of authors and resources. In most cases, the more the better, because a larger selection of thoughts and ideas from various authors provides students with a better chance of generating unique ideas and conclusions about what's been read. Sometimes several works are needed to finally establish a thorough understanding of the topic as well as see any patterns and similarities and differences amongst authors.

Practice summarizing and paraphrasing

This tip may be considered the 'golden key' to successfully avoiding plagiarism. More often than not, many people that fall into plagiarism have difficulty properly summarizing and paraphrasing information. And addition to this, even after properly summarizing or paraphrasing many people do not provide references. With both writing techniques referencing needs to take place even if the student does a good job of putting the information in his or her own words.

Keep well-organized research notes

A lot of confusion with regards to various concepts and ideas and their sources of origin can definitely occur in the note taking process. Usually when researching students work with many texts and highlight and note several interesting points of discussion. The dangerous part is having all these great ideas and not really knowing how they were generated or where they originally came from. To hopefully avoid this a few steps can be taken;
  • Read and note materials in their entirety before moving on to the next title (i.e. avoiding mixing and jumbling various articles and books)
  • Fill out source cards to keep references organized and accessible
  • Keep one idea per note card and be sure to include its source
  • If writing a direct quote in your notes use quotation marks to remind yourself that it is actually a direct quote
  • If you come up with some interesting ideas that you believe to be your own still categorize them under the particular source that you read right before coming up with that idea

Adhere to a particular formatting style such as MLA or APA

Lastly, one of the most widely supported methods of effectively avoiding plagiarism (outside of knowing when to reference sources) is to implement a structured styling guide for in-text citations and references. Formatting guides not only add you in the presentation of your paper but they also provide you with the tools necessary to quickly and easily cite your sources.

Citing Your Sources

MLA (Modern Language Association)

When using the MLA styling guide for direct quotations or paraphrases and summaries writers should indicate the name of the author and the page number that the information was found on in parenthesis. Quotation marks for quotes or special indentation for long quotes should also be used to show the difference between direct quotes and paraphrasing or summarizing. Additionally, the work cited list indicating all of the cited sources in the text should come at the end of paper and be separated from the text by a new page. Also students should be familiar with the different formats for citing one author verses several authors as well as the format for citing other mediums (outside of books). The following is an example of a book citation;

Sample MLA work cited entry

Handy, Newman.The Strength of One. New York. Smith Press, 2009.

APA (American Psychological Association)

For this formatting style the author's name and date of publication should be placed in parenthesis when paraphrasing or summarizing as mentioned earlier. If citing a direct quote then the page number also needs to go into the parenthesis. If the author's name was previously mentioned in a signal phrase for instance, then there is no need to mention the name again, instead only the date of publication would go into the parenthesis. Likewise, instead of having a work cited page, the APA style uses a reference page for sources. The reference page should be be numbered like other pages and provide references in alphabetical order based on the last names of the authors. An example of a journal entry for the reference page is as follows;

Sample APA journal reference from the University of Houston-Victoria

Boyden, C. H., Apple, R., Regunote, M., Qu, S., Weston, L., Anton, R., . . . . Smith, L. (1998). The culture of distance education. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7(3), 65-88.
By using the many techniques mentioned, such as organized note taking, effective summarizing and paraphrasing, as well as adhering to a set style of formatting, it is hoped that your chances of falling into plagiarism will be minimal to none. And since the task of separating your own ideas from others is a hefty one, one of the best things you can do is be extremely well-read. The more you become familiar with a topic and comprehend several examples and explanations concerning it, the more you are able to gain a firm foothold in the subject area and explore and elaborate your own interpretations on the topic.
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