If you are a student, then it’s essential that you don’t plagiarise when completing your assignments. So, you’re about to get a Plagiarism 101 crash course. If you don’t want to get caught for cheating, and have the shame and embarrassment that comes with it (and no doubt a good deal of stress from your parents to boot), then it is vital that you remember and implement the following EIGHT points.
1. Don’t steal anyone else’s work and lie about it
The first thing to remember, is that you should not steal other people’s work, and then lie about it and try to pass it off as your own. This is an act of plagiarism. Your assignment must be written in your own words, and your own word ONLY. Sometimes, it is tempting to copy from a peer, or to take some content that you find online or in a book or newspaper article and try to pass it off as your own. This is NOT a good idea. Try to write your own content. It is the only way that you’ll improve your writing, so you’re only cheating yourself if you steal other people’s work.
2. If you use a quotation, then put it in quotation marks!
This is an easy one. If you take a quotation from a book, journal, newspaper article, or online source (or indeed any other source), then make sure that you place the quotation in quotation marks, and provide details about the author. For example, if you want to define what ‘quotation’ means, and you find a source and an explanation for this that you want to write word for word, then it might look something like this:
A ‘quotation’ is “a short phrase of writing taken from a longer work of literature, poetry, etc. or what someone else has said” (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Moreover, at the end of your work, you will then need a ‘References’ section, which in this case, may look something like this (depending upon which referencing system your assignment has requested that you use):
Cambridge University Press (2008) Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, UK: Cambridge University Press.
This then, is the correct way of referencing, and you should do this throughout your work for any direct quotations.
3. Give credit for any idea or concept, even if it is not a direct quotation
Okay, so this is where things get a little complicated: even if you are not using a text word for word, if you take an idea or concept and use it in your work then you must still give credit for the idea or concept, just like you would with direct quotations: the only difference is that page numbers are not always required for references that do not contain direct quotations (depending upon the referencing system required, and your course guidelines).
However, it should also be noted that you do not have to give credit for anything that is common knowledge. For example, if you are talking about the Allies of World War II winning this global war, you do not need to provide a source for this, as it is something that everyone already knows (or at least they should!). Nevertheless, if you are not sure whether something is common knowledge or not, then it is perhaps better to exercise some caution, and provide a source. The bottom line: there is nothing to lose by doing this.
4. Create good study habits
In order to avoid being labelled as a cheat and plagiarist, it is important that you create some good study habits, so that you don’t fall into the trap of plagiarism. Yes – not everyone who is caught for cheating has cheated on purpose. Sometimes, it is just a lack of knowledge, or a lack of good study habits that is the problem, and the student caught for cheating can often be as surprised as everyone else. Therefore, try to do the following: (a) make a note of all the sources that you use when carrying out research for an assignment, including the page numbers (good note taking is essential), (b) do not start writing your assignment too late (as this could cause sloppy work), and (c) if in doubt, provide a citation!
5. Make sure that you get the information right
This is a tricky one, but even if you give credit for an idea or concept, or any fact, you must still make sure that you understand it, and accurately represent this information if you put it into your own words. Thus, if you are saying that “[This person] said [this]…”, then it is important that the person cited did actually say these things, and that you have not accidentally twisted what they said.
While this kind of plagiarism might be punished less harshly than more overt cheating, it is still something to guard against. So, if you are in doubt about something that an author is trying to say, but you feel it is important and want to include it in your work, then it is perhaps best to use it as a direct quotation, so that the original idea is perfectly preserved.
6. The use of visual aids
It is also important to note that plagiarism does not just include written text, but also the use of visual aids as well. For example, if you are wanting to take a digital snapshot of a graph, table, photograph, or figure, and use it in your work, then it is important to give credit to the source, and provide the correct citation, just as you would for any written text. If you do not, then you are, in effect, passing off the work as your own, and this is also an act of plagiarism. So, if you do take any snapshots in this way, make sure to make a note of the source, otherwise you may find yourself searching endlessly for the source at a later date, if you have already included it in your work.
7. You must understand what plagiarism is!
Of course, if you want to avoid plagiarism, then you must understand what it is in the first place. As you have probably already gathered, there are many types of plagiarism, and many traps for students to fall into in this regard. It is recommended that you thoroughly study your course guidebook on plagiarism, if you have one, and to read various plagiarism guides, which can be found online for free (some of which will go more in-depth than this article, which merely aims to provide more of a checklist of what to avoid). In the current era, it is not enough simply to avoid copying, as plagiarism has become much more complicated than that.
Dedicated plagiarism detection software, such as Viper, can now scan any digital piece of work, and provide a plagiarism report, detailing the number of similarities with digital content, and any quotations without credits. Furthermore, you should be particularly careful with any online sources, as such digital content can easily be scanned at the touch of a button, and teachers can then check the content for any plagiarism. In the past, it might have been difficult to prove a case of plagiarism, but today, teachers are well equipped with plagiarism detection tools like Viper, and can scan work quickly and efficiently.
8. Use plagiarism detection software yourself before handing your work in
Finally, if your teachers are going to be using dedicated plagiarism detection software like Viper, then it makes sense to try to see what they’re going to see, and run you work through some dedicated plagiarism detection software before you hand in your work. This will give you the heads up on any problems or issues, and then you can address these problems and issues, and amend your work, before handing it in. Doing this will significantly mitigate any chance of being identified as a plagiarist, and so it is worthwhile paying any nominal fee for such services.
Of course, such software only provides matches with any digital content present, so care will still have to be taken with regard to print sources. However, using some dedicated plagiarism detection software will provide a good first line of defence against plagiarism in your work, and will give you some degree of peace of mind before handing in your work.
Hopefully this Plagiarism 101 Crash Course has been useful for you in framing what plagiarism is, and what you can do to avoid it. Although it might seem complicated at first, once you have fostered some good study habits, and have developed a routine and method of avoiding plagiarism, this should soon become second nature to you. The important thing is not to get lazy with such things, and to remain vigilant; otherwise, you could find yourself in some hot water at some point.