“Don’t ever plagiarize.” It’s something we’re told from the age we’re first able to understand what plagiarizing means. And it’s repeated throughout our schooling—from elementary to high school and beyond—making many people wonder how prominent plagiarizing actually is. Apparently, it’s more prevalent than most would think, even in the college years.
Plagiarism.org shares the results of a three-year study involving almost 73,000 undergraduate and graduate students, some of which include:
- Approximately one-third of the respondent undergraduates (36 percent) and one-quarter of the graduates (24 percent) revealed that they were guilty of taking one or two sentences from an online source without crediting it.
- Slightly more (38 percent for undergraduates and 25 percent for graduates) admit to doing the same with written sources.
- Fourteen percent of undergraduates and 11 percent of graduates also shared that they had either copied a source word-for-word or handed in work that someone else had completed, meaning that, in both cases, it wasn’t at all their own.
The problem with plagiarism is that it damages your reputation and credibility, sometimes irreparably. Plus, commit plagiarism in school and, if the offense is blatant enough, it can actually get you kicked out. Plagiarizing after graduation can also get you fired or sued, neither of which anyone wants.
So how do you avoid plagiarism? Answering this question first begins with understanding exactly what plagiarism is.
What Plagiarism Is
Turnitin, one of the most well-known online plagiarism checkers available today, shares that there are basically ten different types of plagiarism. The most severe is called cloning and involves copying someone else’s word exactly. This is what most people recognize as plagiarism; however, plagiarism occurs in other ways as well.
One of the other types of plagiarism, according to Turnitin, is referred to as hybrid, which it defines as “the act of combining perfectly cited sources with copied passes—without citation—in one paper.” Another is the aggregator, or properly citing your sources but including absolutely zero of your own original work.
Understanding and recognizing these types of situations as plagiarism is the first step to avoiding issues. But there are other things you can do as well.
Take Detailed Notes
While you may not overtly try to plagiarize someone else’s work, it can easily happen if you are somewhat haphazard with the way you take notes. In other words, if you’re writing your paper off of thoughts, concepts, and sentences that you wrote down but aren’t clearly marked as to whether they are someone else’s or your own, then you risk plagiarizing, even if that’s not what you intended to do.
For this reason, it’s extremely important that you come up with some way to differentiate notes that are written word for word from ones you’ve paraphrased or are completely your own. For instance, if copying something exactly as it was written, put quotation marks around it, or if it’s someone else’s idea that you’re paraphrasing, mark it with a “P.” You can also offset your own thoughts by indenting them, making them stand out as being completely yours.
This same concept can be applied even if your source is verbal, such as in an interview. The sooner you establish a structure that you always use, the less likely it is you will plagiarize, even when there was not intent.
Differentiate Direct Quotes
When directly quoting a source, this portion of the text needs to be differentiated in some way to show that it is theirs and not yours. Of course, the most obvious option is simply to put the text in quotation marks, identifying the source somewhere in the same sentence—whether before or after the text, if not right in the middle.
Another way to differentiate the direct quote is to put it in its own text block. This is especially helpful if the quote is lengthier, offsetting it against the rest of the work and clearly showing that it is taken from someone or somewhere else.
Notate Omitted and Added Text
Sometimes including someone else’s words in their entirety is not necessary or wanted. However, you can’t just change their text to suit your needs. Therefore, if you’re shortening their statement because you only want certain parts of it, you must use ellipses points (…) in place of any text that you omit.
On the other hand, if you have to add a word or small phrase to the text to aid the reader in better understanding the context, you have to note the added words as well. You do this by placing them in brackets (). Just be careful that you don’t change the source’s meaning by doing so.
When Paraphrasing Someone Else’s Ideas
Remember that, even if you don’t write something word-for-word, if you use someone else’s ideas, then you must still give the source credit. If you don’t, you are plagiarizing.
An easy way to do this is to start a sentence with “According to…” or “(Name of the source) says…” and finish with the basic idea. Again, make sure what you’re saying is a paraphrase because, if any of it contains an exact statement, then quotation marks need to be used.
Save and Protect Your Work
It’s also possible that the one plagiarizing isn’t you, but someone else who is stealing your work. While you may know up front that you’re the one who wrote it first, you may find yourself in a position of proving it, which isn’t going to be simple to do if you never saved it.
That’s why it’s advised that you take the time to save each individual draft, preferably in a few different places. For instance, after saving it on your hard drive, save it to the cloud. Or, if you put it on the cloud, make sure you back it up on a memory stick.
Also, take steps to protect it, making it harder for someone else to get their hands on it. Password-protect your computer so no one other than you can log in and have access to your work. If you’re working on a shared computer, then at least take the time to create passwords for your files.
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