How to Avoid Plagiarism
Staying on the straight and narrow when writing your college papers.
As you set out to work on college essays and term papers this semester, you will always need to keep in the back of your mind that the information you share can easily be interpreted as plagiarism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines plagiarize as, “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source.” In this example, plagiarism was avoided by first citing the source, Merriam-Webster, and second by putting that definition within quotes.
What defines plagiarism is sometimes unclear and may be murky at best. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab notes that there are “intellectual challenges that all students are faced with when writing.” The lab explains that some rules appear contradictory, giving students very little room to maneuver. Or at least it may seem that way.
For instance, your professor will want you to write something that is original, but you will need to cite established sources to back up what you have to say. Relying on those sources too much can cost you a good grade, therefore you will have to express your opinion while supporting your stance typically with those same citations.
Citing or giving credit may save you from plagiarism, but if you do not serve up your own contribution, then you have played it too safe. Your professor may laud you for your research, but then mark you down for essentially parroting what others have said. You might be slapped with a plagiarism charge if you simply rearrange words to make it look like something that you said. Thus, your own take on the matter is essential, something that will keep you within the good graces of your professors.
Murkiness is most evident when you use original words, but your ideas were derived from another source. As the University of Wisconsin’s writing handbook stresses, students must cite a source where the information is not “common knowledge.” If the key points or steps in your paper are based on another study, theory or method, then that source must be cited.
Citations for common knowledge are handled in two different ways, depending on the type used. The “Writing Handbook” separates common knowledge into two parts: general common knowledge or what everyone knows to be true, e.g., the earth is round. In this case, no reference must be offered. Field-specific common knowledge is handled differently, requiring that source to be cited. For instance, the earth’s rotation is not fixed and eventually the North Star will not always be the pole star. This tidbit of information must be supported, something that you can see by looking at our fourth reference in our “Sources” section that follows.
By the way, SayCampusLife isn’t using either the APA Guide or MLA Guide for our references. In your case, your college or university requires you to follow one of the two when citing sources.
Students should know that professors make good use of plagiarism checkers to find out if papers are original. You can use these checkers too to ensure that your paper passes the plagiarism test. Turnitin, the Plagiarism Check and Copyscape are among the tools at your disposal, but should not be relied on exclusively. Always spend much time on reading your work yourself, questioning any point you make if it does not sound original or merely moves words around.