How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism (Part 2 of 3 on Avoiding Academic Suicide)
This is part 2 of our series on plagiarism, what it is, how to avoid it, and tools to help. If you haven’t already, start by reading Part 1 of “Avoiding Academic Suicide” where we discuss what plagiarism is and why it really is “academic suicide”.
In this article in our plagiarism series, we’re going to talk about avoiding accidental plagiarism. We discussed in Part 1 what exactly plagiarism is and why it needs to be avoided at all costs, but we also pointed out that sometimes plagiarism shows up in your work accidentally. So the majority of this article is going to be spent talking about different steps you can take to avoid that.
However, first, I wanted to address intentional plagiarism. Maybe you don’t know anything about your topic, and need to write a paper due the next day, and you’re ever so tempted to plagiarize. Maybe you just don’t think the consequences will be that bad. 99.99% of the time, I guarantee it, it’s better to just get a 0 on your paper or turn it in a day late then plagiarizing. At most learning institutions, in addition to getting a 0 on the assignment, you’ll also go through all sorts of disciplinary measures and your reputation will be hurt greatly. So if the idea EVER crosses your mind, just DON’T DO IT.
Moving on to the more positive side of things: being proactive is the #1 way to avoid accidental plagiarism. Let’s break this up into a couple different steps.
1. Keep track of where you get ideas
Plagiarism is taking somebody else’s words or ideas and pretending that they’re your own thoughts without giving credit. If you want to give proper credit where it is due, you’ll have to be very clear on what is your own thinking and what isn’t! So in the course of your research, wether it be via the internet or old-fashioned books, do the following:
Every time you read an idea that you may want to discuss in your paper, write down WHOSE idea it was so that you can give proper credit in your paper!
Also, it can get easy to forget to cite the source of an idea if you’re always paraphrasing. Include quotes from your sources to support some ideas- it’ll be near impossible to forget to say who said the quote!
2. Spread out the writing process
I don’t know about you guys, but if I read a website about Ray Bradbury or the SparkNotes for Fahrenheit 451, and then immediately began typing up my paper on the topic, some of the wording that I just read on those sites would probably stick in my head and I would type them out, thinking that they just came from my own noggin and not the sources I just read from. If you had to go write a short essay on “avoiding accidental plagiarism” right after you read this article, do you think it would be plausible that you would write “Being proactive is a great way to avoid accidental plagiarism” without thinking twice about where you got that idea?
So be proactive and plan out the time you need to write this paper: don’t research and write the paper all in the same day! Research one day, sleep, and the next day go to write a rough draft.
3. Proofread your paper and ask yourself, “That point I just brought up, where did I hear that from?”
Read over your paper and double-check that every point you make in the paper was either truly your own thinking or was cited correctly. This is kind of like an idiot-check for avoiding plagiarism.
So by being proactive and taking careful notes during research, spreading out your writing process over a few days, and proofreading, you should be able to avoid accidental plagiarism no problem! In Part 3 we’re going to talk about other tools that can help you avoid plagiarism and proofread your paper, checking it across a vast database of sources.