Plagiarism, in simple terms, is knowingly using another’s ideas or work as your own.
Plagiarism is bad. Really really bad. Some schools take it so seriously that they will expel any guilty student.
That is why systems of rules like APA, MLA, Chicago, and others exist - to help writers and readers keep track of their source information while giving credit to those sources. This is necessary and helpful for academic work because the reader needs to be able to research, verify, and enter into conversation with the author they’re reading.
If we didn’t have a method for avoiding plagiarism, then we wouldn’t be able to follow the origin of ideas and see how current knowledge has been built over the years.
When should I credit a source?
The first step to avoiding plagiarism is to know when you should cite your sources.
Here’s a list of things you should cite:
- Words or ideas presented by someone/something else (in a journal, book, blog, movie, letter, radio, etc.)
- Any information you gain through dialogue with another person
- When copying exact words or unique phrases
- When using diagrams, charts, or pictures created by someone else
- When you re-use any digital media (images, audio, video, etc.)
There are also a number of things that you do not have to cite. You do not need to provide citations for:
- Writing about your own lived experiences, observations, thoughts, or conclusions
- When writing about results obtained through your own experiments
- When using your own art, video, audio, etc.
- When you are using “common knowledge.” Something can be considered common knowledge if you can find it undocumented in at least five credible sources.
- When using generally-accepted facts, e.g., pollution is bad for the environment
Methods for Avoiding Plagiarism
One of the first lines of defense against plagiarism happens when taking research notes. If you are using PERRLA Online, our Research Notes feature makes it easy to keep and track all of your citations through the entire writing process.
Have a system
If you are using your own system, you may want to mark all of your notes as either from a source (S) or as your own ideas (ME). You should also be sure to use obvious quotation marks when taking quotes. (This idea came from the Purdue OWL. See what we're doing here?)
Take lots of notes
When interviewing an individual for research, the more notes you can take and the more precise they are the less likely you will be to accidentally plagiarize. If possible, record your interviews or conduct them via writing (email) so that you have a tangible record of everything that was said.
When you are paraphrasing or summarizing a source, make sure you check your summary against the original source. Even when we are trying to summarize, we can slip back into the author’s language without knowing it. If you need to use a unique phrase from the author in the paraphrase, be sure to put it in quotation marks.
Tip: It is also plagiarism to copy someone else’s paragraph or content structure.
Quoting is the most direct way to ensure that you do not plagiarize. However, a paper full of quotes can be choppy and difficult to read. You can avoid breaking up the flow of your paper by using the shortest quotes possible to convey your idea but without losing its meaning.
Just don't forget about it
Finally, make sure that you spend time looking for possible plagiarism during the editing phases of the writing process. You can compare the notes you used while writing with the citations you’ve listed in your paper to ensure you have properly cited them.