A Writing Guide for College Students: Avoiding Plagiarism

A Writing Guide for College Students: Avoiding Plagiarism

Students cheat all the time, whether they mean to or not. Plagiarism happens, and it’s not always on purpose. Know the rules of writing and avoid plagiarizing, even accidentally.

Key Takeaways

  • Plagiarism is a widespread issue in higher education that occurs when a student either knowingly or unknowingly claims credit for another person’s work.

  • It is possible to avoid plagiarism simply by improving essential writing skills such as properly documenting citations, adhering to style-guide instructions, and creating comprehensive reference lists.

  • Other strategies for avoiding plagiarism include improved study habits like better time management and more effective note-taking.

Writing college papers in your own words can be a challenging mix of learning, researching, formulating ideas, and refining your words into a cohesive narrative. Knowing when and how to cite your sources can add to the stress of a paper’s looming due date.

It’s important to remember that, with academic writing, it’s important to uphold the standards of academic integrity no matter how much pressure we’re under. That means knowing when to use quotation marks, when to use in text citations, and when to give proper credit for using another person’s ideas.

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Give Yourself Plenty of Time

If the deadline for an assignment is in two weeks, don’t wait until the night before the due date to start working. Doing your work early gives you time to research properly and come up with your own ideas.

When you’re rushing to meet a deadline, you may become careless about giving proper credit. Try to get into the habit of writing a first draft as early as possible. That should leave you sufficient time to take a break from the paper and revisit it later with fresh eyes. It also affords you extra time to properly research and cite your sources.

Don’t Copy Papers From Others

If your older sibling or friend has completed a university course you’re taking, it might be tempting to borrow their previous work. They might even grant you permission to reuse old papers.

While an old paper can be a valuable example as you do your own work, it is critical that you write your own paper from the ground up. Writing, research, and citation are critical learning skills. You’ll need to effectively use written words in order to succeed at the university level. Use every paper and assignment as an opportunity to get better.

Take Good Notes

When taking notes, remember to cite your sources. That may sound strange, since your notes are only for yourself. However, over the course of a long research project, it can be easy to forget where the ideas in your notes came from. You don’t want to refer to a concept from your notes in a paper only to find that you’re borrowing an idea from a previous author.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal citation. This information is for your future reference. Just jot down the original source, and if relevant, a page number, so you’ll know where to look when you need citation information in the future. If you do ultimately plan to use the idea in question in a paper, you’ll have enough information to give credit with a formal citation.

Sharpen Your Citation Skills

Getting good at citing your sources is just as important of a skill as knowing how to research a topic. Citation should be used any time you use another author’s words, another person’s idea, or even a person’s actual spoken word.

Advanced citation skills help you determine when you need to cite, when you need to quote, and how to convey your own original ideas. Make sure you know key citation styles such as APA, MLA, Chicago, and others. And always adhere to the proper citation style for a given writing task, if one is specified.

Keep a Style Guide Handy

Find a website or resource with a decent style guide. Pursue University, for example, provides one such website. Purdue’s OWL formatting portal is an online writing center with comprehensive citation guides, reference list samples, and other sources for students at every level.

Paraphrase Properly

Remember that even if you’re paraphrasing another author’s work, you still need to cite the source. Even in cases where you summarize other people’s ideas rather than using direct quotes, you must identify the original text.

Paraphrasing is an important skill because it demonstrates that you understand a concept well enough to produce a succinct summary in your own words. However, when paraphrasing, always cite the source.

Practice Your Writing Skills

One of the best ways to avoid borrowing somebody else’s work is to improve your own writing abilities. The more confident and competent you become as a writer, the more readily you’ll be able to access your own words when writing.

Refine your writing process by taking comprehensive research notes, writing multiple drafts, and familiarizing yourself with a wide range of citation style guides. The less doubt you have as a writer, the easier you’ll find it to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Write in Your Own Words

Even when citing someone else’s ideas, even those that qualify as common knowledge or fair use, try paraphrasing these ideas using your own words. Avoid using the same phrases or exact words found in common references. And cite your source correctly.

Use Quotation Marks Properly

Avoid plagiarism by mastering the proper use of quotation marks. When using somebody else’s exact words, or providing a direct quote from a source, you must use quotation marks as well as a proper in text citation. Consult the style guide for your required format (i.e. MLA, APA, etc.) to be sure you are adhering to the rules for proper use of quotation marks as well as in text citation.

Limit Quotations to Just a Few Words

Limit your use of direct quotes to just a few words. The vast majority of your writing should be original text. Quote only key phrases from your original source, while offering your own insight on the idea at the heart of your quotation. Borrow a few words from the original author, cite the source, then add your own thoughts.

Know How to Write a Reference List

Consult the style guide for your required format (i.e. APA, MLA, etc.) before writing any paper. Know the rules for citing sources at the conclusion of your writing. Find out what type of information you are required to provide for the reader including citation format, author credit and corresponding in text citation. Note any special formatting rules that apply for citing a website.

Additional Resources for Preventing Plagiarism

Academic Influence Resources for Avoiding Plagiarism

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