Avoiding plagiarism is important whether you’re in high school, college, or writing for work. Most people know that plagiarism is not a good thing, but a lot of times we talk about plagiarism without talking about what it actually takes to avoid it.
Plagiarism occurs when a writer takes credit for work that another person has done. This can involve general ideas, specific facts, or particular phrases. Most instances of plagiarism have their roots in either ignorance, laziness, or carelessness. The best thing you can do to avoid this is to educate yourself about the subject and give yourself plenty of time to complete your writing assignments.
Basically, the only information in your writing that you don’t need to cite is information that is general knowledge, or conclusions that you personally have made from the information you’ve already cited.
It can be tough to know if a piece of information is general knowledge if you’re writing in a field you’re not familiar with, but a good rule of thumb is when in doubt, cite it. If you’ve encountered the same piece of information in multiple sources, that’s a clue that it might be common knowledge. You can also ask a person who has more knowledge of the topic than you do.
If you are using information that has its source in another author’s work, you must give that person credit in your writing. Different citation styles have different guidelines for how to do that; you can learn more about them in this post. You need to cite this information whether you are quoting the source word for word, paraphrasing it, or summarizing it.
I’ve already talked about the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing here. When you paraphrase, it’s not enough to replace the original author’s words with synonyms: you must rewrite the sentence in your own words, taking care to change the sentence structure. You want the information to be conveyed in your voice.
If you are using a word or phrase that is unique to the original author, you should still enclose it in quotation marks and treat it as a quotation, because you would not have written those specific words on your own.
Knowing these basic guidelines will help you avoid plagiarizing another writer by accident. If you give yourself enough time to write a paper, you will find it easier to avoid careless mistakes. Another helpful practice to minimize the chance of plagiarism is to make sure that you clearly record the sources for information in your notes. If you are copying and pasting information from a website or other electronic source, make sure to enclose it in quotation marks and include the source information. There’s nothing more annoying that having a great piece of information but no idea where it came from.
Many times, a teacher or professor can tell if a student has plagiarized a source because the voice in a specific paragraph or section is noticeably different. There are also online plagiarism detectors which educators can use to find plagiarism. If you’re worried about your ability to cite material reliably, you may want to try putting your work thorough one of these before you turn it in. Good luck!