by Amanda Clark
Plagiarism: It’s a scary word, and you probably know someone who has gotten into big trouble for it. But with so many writing assignments to do, and so many free resources available, it can be easy to plagiarize accidentally. In fact, there are many “gray areas” of plagiarism that you might not even know about.
In order to avoid a very uncomfortable trip to the principal’s office, here are five tips to help make sure you avoid plagiarism.
- Use a variety of sources
When compiling your research, it’s important to use numerous sources. This prevents you from using ideas from just one site or book. Even though you may think you’re putting the content into your own words, you still may be using the formatting and overall structure of that one author. By using multiple sources, you’ll not only have a more well-rounded paper, but you’ll also avoid accidentally passing off one author’s work for your own.
- Base your work on your own ideas
This one sounds like common sense, but it’s critical. If you’re composing your essay based on your own thoughts and ideas, then you’re probably in the clear of plagiarism.
Try writing out a short draft of your paper using no outside sources. This ensures that you’re thinking through the topic on your own, rather than relying on already-published ideas. This is certainly easier for assignments like short stories, poetry, editorials, etc. than research papers, but the thesis in a research paper should be original too. Make sure that your arguments are backed by cited, credible sources, and that your paper offers a new spin on a topic rather than just recapping old information.
- Cite your sources!
Accurately citing your sources is one of the best safeguards against plagiarism. Remember that you don’t just have to cite when using quotes. You also have to cite ideas that aren’t yours. Many students fail to mention sources because they feel that they put the author’s ideas into their own words, but this is still a form of plagiarism. I tell my students: when in doubt, provide a citation. EasyBib has an easy-to-use works cited generator that helps you create citations, whether your teacher has asked for MLA style, APA style, or Chicago style.
- Stay organized and keep track of your sources
A common mistake that students make is spending hours researching and taking beautiful notes, only to lose track of where the information came from. Help yourself out from the beginning: keep track of your sources as you’re taking notes. Try keeping an organized T-Chart of all of your sources in one column and your information/notes in the other column. This will prevent you from accidentally forgetting a citation.
- Run your paper through a plagiarism checker
Even when you don’t set out to plagiarize, you can forget a citation, fail to adequately rephrase a source text, or accidentally follow the structure of a site you’ve used. Use an online grammar and plagiarism checker to make sure you didn’t accidentally lift something from your research or forget to cite. It only takes a few minutes, and it gives you that extra peace of mind when you turn in your paper.
So the next time you sit down to write that stellar paper on the Roman Empire, make sure to use these handy tips to help you pass any plagiarism checker with ease.