For practically all of us, there have been many times when writing on a particular subject matter has meant reaching into the endless archives of the internet to pull out inspiration. During many of those times, inspiration has meant the entire article. But when writing on such topics, it’s fairly easy to fall into the plagiarism trap, creating room for a generally lower quality write-up. But what exactly is this plagiarism thing and how can you avoid it?
Plagiarism – according to Plagiarism.org – “is a common (and often misunderstood) problem that is often the result of a lack of knowledge and skills.” Different statements from the Merriam-Webster dictionary indicate that plagiarism involves trying to pass off someone’s knowledge, ideas or creation as your own.
Although plagiarism is a trap easily fallen into, there are ways to avoid it.
One of the simplest and most efficient ways is to paraphrase. Paraphrasing entails reading the article or source material and writing it in your own words. This way, you’re not only creating a new article but by writing in your own words, you’re also actively understanding the concept, which leads to opening different pathways through which you can express the content in a way that’s unique to you. Try to make sure your version of the material doesn’t have more than two words in a row copied verbatim from the source. And if you can’t, use quotation marks.
Another very effective way to avoid plagiarism is to cite the source material. Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided by citing the source material. Whatever type of document you’re writing will have format guidelines. Follow them, detailing the author(s) and date of the publication in the citation. Citing sources strengthens your write-up by highlighting your own ideas, showing that you understand and process the other source’s information, and supporting ideas that are completely yours. Note that improper citing also constitutes plagiarism, so make sure the information you’re citing is accurate. No effort is too much in making sure your article is as far from plagiarism issues as possible.
Citing quotes is another way to avoid plagiarism. It is somewhat different from paraphrasing the source material. It usually involves noting the page number (for books) or the paragraph number (for web pages).
Quoting, which is always denoted with air quotes – should also be considered. And if you’re going to quote a source, you might as well do it properly. Use the quote exactly as it appears. Most times, quotes are required to be small, which is where paraphrasing comes in. And although the process takes time and effort, it’s always worth it in the end. Also note that quoting has to be done correctly, or plagiarism allegations could come up.
Although it might sound weird, using the material you have used before, is called self-plagiarism, and is not acceptable. Citing yourself can also be very helpful. Cite your work as you would any other, with the correct information about the date of the publication, the author – who in this case is you – and other aforementioned notes.
Referencing is one of the most important ways to avoid plagiarism. More importantly, by noting clearly who said what, when and where, you’re saving yourself from a potential hot mess. Although most document formatting guidelines allow you to include a “references” page at the end of your document, check with your advisor/institution. Your reference must include very specific information about the author(s) name(s), the date, title and source of the publication. Make sure to follow your document’s specified instructions, as you’ll want to get this part correctly. Not all sources are worth citing though because not all sources are credible. Make sure you know the author of the source material, where they sourced their material from, and when it was written. These are all important steps in avoiding plagiarism.