Every student knows that writing a research paper is an inevitable part of studying. Regardless of your academic level and the field you’re in, you’re bound to produce a research paper one way or another. In fact, you will have already written dozens of research papers by the time you graduate. Because writing can be challenging, many students choose to take shortcuts. Some might submit research papers copied from the internet while others may choose to use old research papers that they’ve submitted before. However, such shortcuts can result in papers being flagged as plagiarized, and plagiarism, as most are already aware, is considered as a serious academic offense. Punishment for plagiarism can range from failing the module to being expelled from the school. Learning how to not plagiarize a research paper, therefore, is important writing skill. Indeed, knowing how to avoid plagiarism remains useful even in the professional setting. In this post, we look at some tips that could help you learn how to write a research paper without plagiarizing.
One of the most important ways to avoid plagiarism is by writing your research paper from scratch. Writing from scratch means that your research paper will be written from beginning to end. For example, suppose that your teacher asks you to write a research paper for your history class. In order to complete this, you will have to go through every stage of the writing process. You will brainstorm for ideas, conduct research, create your outline, write your draft, and revise and proofread your paper until you produce the final copy. This means that you are not to take someone else’s work without giving due credit or pass off an old paper as a new one. Apart from helping you avoid plagiarism, writing from scratch enables you to craft your paper in such a way that it follows the specific instructions of the task. For instance, if you once wrote a paper about climate change, it doesn’t mean that you can submit that paper again for a new assignment on the same topic. This is because there may be differences in requirements between the two. Each new assignment you encounter tends to be unique, and thus you need to complete it according to its specific instructions.
Use Quotation Marks
Another way to write a paper without plagiarizing is by using quotation marks. Writing a research paper often involves integrating information from sources, and such information usually comes in the form of a direct quote. For example, if you’re writing a research paper that involves literary works, you’re likely to include passages written by the author. Think of the memorable lines written by William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens that often find their way to essays. Another example is when you’re using journal articles and you want to include statements by the authors that are particularly important. Regardless of the information, you’re including, you need to enclose them in quotation marks since quotation marks signal to the reader that the lines are not yours but rather from your source. That said, use quotes wisely. Do not include a quote if it’s not essential or if it’s irrelevant since it will just distract your reader. The usual limit for direct quotes is 10-20% of the word count. Also, unless the quote is so clear, well-constructed, and illuminating that there’s no other way to say it, paraphrase the quote in your own words. Don’t forget to include a correct in-text citation for every line that you quote.
Paraphrase and Summarize
Another good way to prevent plagiarism is by paraphrasing and summarizing. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are actually different and refer to distinct ways of conveying information from sources. Paraphrasing is basically restating something in your own words. Note, though, that paraphrasing should go beyond changing just a few words here and there; rather, effective paraphrasing should involve extensive rewriting. The key is to change the wording but retain the meaning. Summarizing, on the other hand, requires restating something in your own words while focusing on the key points of the source. To illustrate, you use paraphrasing when conveying the message of a few lines or a short paragraph, but you use summarizing when communicating the main points of a longer work such as a full article. Paraphrasing and summarizing enables you to avoid plagiarism by minimizing the similarity in wording between your research paper and your sources. In this age where most research papers are run through online plagiarism checkers, lowering the similarity index is key to keeping your papers from being flagged. Also, plagiarism and summarizing work well when you cannot use direct quotes. For example, it’s impractical to quote an entire page unless absolutely necessary since doing so will increase the length of your paper. Of course, anything you paraphrase or summarize must be accompanied by a citation.
Provide Complete Citations
While quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing are important tools for integrating information from your sources while avoiding plagiarism, equally important is accompanying each of these with a citation. Every time you quote a line from your source, paraphrase a statement or summarize a work, you need to include an in-text citation. Without an in-text citation, your reader has no way of knowing if what you’re saying is your own idea or one that you borrowed. Furthermore, if you don’t include an in-text citation, you also failing to attribute the information to the source, which is considered as plagiarism. Also, note that all in-text citations should have corresponding full citations in your references page. Studying the different citation styles will help you learn how to make proper in-text and full citations.
Know When to Cite
While a research paper almost always includes information from sources, it is important to know that not all information has to be cited. After all, if you’re going to attribute every detail you include to some source, your paper will be filled with so many citations that it will be difficult to read. So how do you know which information needs a citation and which doesn’t? The rule of thumb is, commonly known facts usually don’t need citations, while more specific information need sources. Is a piece of information generally accepted as true? Is it known to the average person? If your answers to these questions are yes, then you don’t have to include a source. For example, stating that climate change is a global issue need not be attributed to a source—most people already know this. By contrast, stating that average temperatures are expected to rise by five degrees in the next decade requires a source. But even when you’re aware of this rule of thumb, it can still get confusing sometimes. So there’s another rule of thumb for that: if in doubt, cite. In the end, if you’re not sure whether you should include a source or not, it’s better than you do. After all, most professors are more forgiving towards papers that cite too many sources than papers that fail to cite sources.
Keep Tabs on Your Sources
Keeping tabs on your sources is important to prevent plagiarizing the work of others. When you’re deep in the process of writing, you might choose to write the paper in its entirety and then just insert the citations later. But this can become problematic. First, you might lose track of the parts that are yours and the parts that come from your sources. Second, you might forget which parts come from which sources and thus attribute information to different sources. Both of these are considered as plagiarism since you’re either failing to attribute information to a source of attributing information to an incorrect source. On the other hand, keeping tabs on your sources will help you avoid this. There are different ways to keep track of your sources, such as by writing down notes or indicating sources in your outline. For best practice, make it a habit to include an in-text citation each time you refer to a source.
Know the Different Types of Plagiarism
Knowing how to prevent plagiarism is not complete if you don’t learn the different types of plagiarism. If you’re aware of how plagiarism happens, then you’re more likely to be able to avoid committing it in the first place. That said, there major types of plagiarism are as follows:
This is when you directly copy the work of one or more authors without giving due credit. Direct plagiarism is perhaps the most common type of plagiarism. An example of this is downloading a research paper from the internet and passing it off as your own. Another example is combining two or more works and then submitting it as your output.
Failing to Credit
This is when you paraphrase content and then make it look as if it’s your own work by not crediting the source. For example, you copy the conclusions of a source and make it look as if these are conclusions you generated through your own analysis.
This type of plagiarism involves incomplete paraphrasing. For instance, you might change just some of the words, omit or expand some parts, or change the structure of sentences. As a result, your paper becomes a mixture of your own words and the unattributed works of others—similar to a mosaic.
This is when you plagiarize yourself, such as when you submit an old paper or combine two or more old papers to create a new one. While not everyone considers this as plagiarism, most professors do, and thus you’re better off writing a new paper than taking your chances.
Despite warnings and punishments, many students still commit plagiarism both deliberately and accidentally. As a result, many schools today require students to run their papers through plagiarism checkers that are made available to them. Examples of this are SafeAssign and Turnitin, which are both online programs capable of detecting plagiarism. Now, if you write your paper from scratch and use appropriate citation methods, your paper will unlikely show any similarities with the works of others (except for direct quotes, which are not considered plagiarism if they are enclosed in quotations and have in-text citations). However, this doesn’t mean that you should no longer use plagiarism checkers. If they are available to you, do not hesitate to use them. Using plagiarism checkers can be a good way to ensure that your paper is free of any plagiarism.
Seek Advice from Your Professor
Finally, seeking advice from your professor can help you avoid plagiarism. While the main responsibility of professors is to teach students, they are also there to guide students in other areas including providing help with writing research papers. Professors understand that writing can be difficult, and thus most of the time they are happy to help students avoid plagiarism by giving tips. Be wary, though, of taking too much of the professor’s time. Your professor will not be able to cover all the important lessons in writing, so it’s up to you to learn more.
While writing research papers is challenging, there is no excuse for submitting plagiarized work. Writing research papers is not just for acquiring knowledge and developing writing skills; it is also for enhancing your capacity to critically think, analyze, and synthesize. For this reason, it is vital to fully engage with the writing process rather than resort to plagiarism, especially since plagiarism comes with heavy penalties such as failing the course or being expelled from school. Learning how to write a research paper without plagiarizing is a crucial step towards ensuring original work.