How To Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a growing problem, about which schools, colleges and universities are increasingly concerned.

Avoiding plagiarism:

The most efficient way to avoid plagiarism is to find out how and why plagiarism is occurring: only when you understand the cause can you deal with the effect.

So, as an exercise to help you to avoid plagiarism, take a careful look back over a recent piece of your work and compare it with your initial notes. Looking at both simultaneously, ask yourself the following questions - your honest responses will help you to avoid plagiarism:

  • Do your notes clearly indicate which sources the ideas are taken from?
  • Have you clearly shown which pieces of text are direct quotations?
  • Are you clear about which ideas are yours and which belong to someone else?
  • Have you simply paraphrased your notes in your completed essay?
  • Have you overused quotations? (A good rule of thumb is that no more than 10% of your work should consist of direct quotations).
  • Did you think that the mode of expression in a piece of writing was better than yours and copy it?
  • Were you cutting corners and using your own previous work or another person's work to save time?

Any combination, or single instance, of these issues could be a reason why you might have plagiarised - either accidentally or deliberately - but by recognising this, you are well on the way to avoiding plagiarism in the future.

One of the most effective ways of beginning to avoid school, college or university plagiarism is to be more careful when taking notes. It is so easy to be careless with note-taking, especially when you are in a rush or when you have embarked on a long piece of work, such as a thesis or dissertation, where originality is essential.

These tips on avoiding school, college or university plagiarism should help:

  • You can avoid plagiarism by always listing the source in the correct manner when you are note-taking.
  • You can avoid plagiarism by using constant correct notation to familiarise yourself with the referencing style required by your school, college or university.
  • You can avoid plagiarism by reading back over your notes at the end of each research session to ensure that you have noted the sources you've used.
  • You can avoid plagiarism by using a referencing system, like colour-coding, to show at a glance which text is your original work, and which is quotation of other people's.
  • You can avoid plagiarism by being careful to use correct punctuation when citing quotes.

Most tutors will tell you that they would rather have your original thoughts than even the most eloquently expressed sentences of another, so don't be tempted to plagiarise because you think a thought is expressed better in a source: plagiarism is never preferable to originality.

Try to approach research in an analytical fashion, so that you are constantly exploring how your ideas fit with other writers' ideas: do they challenge it or agree with it? By adopting this method, you reduce the risk of plagiarism because you are contrasting your ideas with those found in your research, so it is easier to avoid plagiarising because there is clear separation the sources' ideas and the way you have interpreted them. You also improve the overall cohesion of your work.

Reference your work properly

Another key step to avoiding plagiarism is to get your referencing right. Make sure you:

  • Always reference the actual source when you use a quotation
  • Make it clear which words are your own and which are someone else's
  • Reference anyone else's ideas, even if you haven't directly quoted from the source
  • Don't depend too heavily on other people's words and ideas. Even if you give credit to them, to be original you also need to explore your own thoughts on the subject.

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