After posting about the research paper, I was inspired to follow up with a blog entry about plagiarism, or actually how to avoid plagiarism. For the most part, plagiarism happens accidentally. Most of the time, students have simply forgotten to give credit to the author, or the students were unaware of how to give credit or that they even needed to do so. Before you get lost in the piles of research, let’s have a heart-to-heart about some great ways to avoid plagiarism and show off your amazing research skills.
To Cite or Not to Cite: Have you heard of the term common knowledge? Students tend to confuse common knowledge with knowledge that they already had in their head. Saying the sky is blue is common knowledge, but if you already know why the sky is blue (without researching it), then that is not common knowledge and needs to be cited. Another example is George Washington. Saying George Washington was the first President of the United States is common knowledge, but saying that George Washington became president in 1789 is not common knowledge. It’s important to know the difference. When in doubt, look it up and cite it.
Keep Track of Your Sources: Research papers require a lot of, well, research. It’s easy to read something at some point during your research and then forget where you read it. When this happens, you may be tempted to just stick it in your paper and not cite it. Don’t do that. Review your sources to find the information you need to cite. Next time, keep careful notes about the specific information that came from each of your sources. At the end of this entry, you’ll find a link to a handy software plug-in that will help you keep track of all the sources you find.
Paraphrasing: Another way that plagiarism happens is when a student paraphrases but doesn’t change enough of the words. This one can be a little confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. The general rule is not to use more than two words, in a row, verbatim from the source. If you use more than two words verbatim in a row, then you need to put them in quotations. Of course, even if you change enough words to paraphrase, you still must include an in-text citation at end of the sentence. Basically, anything that you borrow, whether it’s a direct quote, summary, or a paraphrase, needs a citation.
The Works Cited Page: Lastly, we need the works cited page. Your works cited page (or reference page, depending on the documentation style) needs to contain bibliographical information for all the sources that are included in your paper. I see students that have a long list of sources on their works cited page, but they’ve only cited one or two in their paper. That’s another thing to avoid. Make sure that every source in your works cited page is in your paper and vice versa. Check out our website at DelMar.edu/SWC for a list of helpful handouts.
It can be easy to avoid plagiarism; you just need the proper tools and knowledge. Always be aware of what ideas you’ve borrowed and what are your own thoughts. As long as you’re careful, you should be fine. Don’t be afraid to ask a consultant or your professor if you’re unsure of whether something needs to be cited. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense that can result in failing a class or being put on academic probation. Cite your sources carefully, and give authors the credit they deserve!
The Helpful Plug-In: Want some help saving all of your sources? I’ve used a plug-in called Zotero to do my own research. Zotero allows you to save sources, organize them, and make a works cited page. It’s amazing and really awesome for any research paper. It’s available for Mac and Windows, and you can get plug-ins for your browser. As with any helpful citation generator, you want to CHECK your citations carefully before you submit your paper.
Hope this helps, Readers! I’m diving back into my research! See you next time the sun is up, the breeze is cool, and the waves roll into view. ‘Til then, hang ten!
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