Plagiarism is considered as a serious offense not only in the academic setting but also in many other fields including research, literature, and the arts. Defined as taking the work of someone else and passing it off as one’s own, plagiarism when proven to be true can lead to severe penalties, regardless of the type of plagiarism committed. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid plagiarism, and it only takes some care, patience, and diligence.
Write from scratch
One of the best ways to avoid plagiarism is by writing everything from scratch. This means that you need to approach each writing project as if it is your first time to work on it. For instance, just because you wrote an essay on World War II in the past does not mean that you can use that paper again for a new writing project on the same topic. You may consult your previous works if they are related to your new project, but make sure that you are not recycling them. Read up on your topic, write your draft, and revise repeatedly. Writing from scratch has the added benefit of your paper being written according to the specific needs of your project, since an old work may not necessarily provide what the instructions of your new project require.
Enclose in quotation marks and cite
Including information for your sources as evidence is almost always a part of writing. Whether you are writing a literary analysis or an argumentative essay, you will rely on what your sources say. Sometimes, that information is so insightful or so clear that there’s really no other way to express it, so you might choose to paste the information directly on your paper without changing anything. If you do this, make sure that you enclose it in quotation marks. Those quotation marks serve as a signal to the reader that the information is not yours but instead comes from your source. Of course, don’t forget to add citations so that the reader can see which the source is.
Paraphrase or summarize and cite
As opposed to directly quoting information, there are times when you need to summarize or paraphrase ideas from your sources as a way of shortening them. For obvious reasons, you cannot quote an entire article when all you need from it is the point that it is trying to make. To be practical, you may opt for paraphrasing or summarizing your source. This means not just changing some words here and there or making light changes; rather, paraphrasing and summarizing involves identifying the main ideas of your sources and then writing them in your own words. Again, don’t forget to add citations so that the reader can see where these ideas come from. Failing to do so may result in the work being considered as plagiarism.
Write down notes
Make it a habit to write down notes so that you can keep track of your sources. During a writing frenzy, you may be tempted to write everything down without adding citations to indicate the sources. However, this may cause problems later. For one, you might forget which of the things you wrote down came from sources and which are your own ideas. For another, you might eventually attribute a piece of information to the wrong source. Both cases can be considered as plagiarism since you are either failing to credit your sources or failing to indicate the correct sources. Writing notes, on the other hand, helps you organize your information by matching them with the correct sources.
If in doubt, cite
Not all information needs to be cited. After all, there is such a thing as common knowledge. For instance, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections is common knowledge and need not be credited to a source. However, a certain antibiotic is shown to be less effective than another in treating a specific disease is a type of information that needs to be credited to its author. The rule of thumb is, if you are in doubt that the information you’re presenting is common knowledge, opt to include citations that state it. A good way to determine this is by asking whether the information is known to the average person or at least to the audience. Another is by asking whether the information can be considered as reliable without having to be looked up for verification. Plagiarism can have dire consequences, whether it is intentional or accidental. But by learning these ways to avoid plagiarism, you can help ensure that your paper is fresh, original, and makes correct use of sources.