Working with Sources; Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s ideas or words as if they were your own. Viewed as a form of academic dishonesty, it carries potentially severe penalties ranging from failing the assignment and failing the course to expulsion from the University. You are responsible for the writing you submit; you are also accountable for representing the work of others fairly and accurately. Taking the words or ideas of someone and presenting them as your own constitutes theft, whether you meant to plagiarize or not. See the General Catalog to review the University’s policies in detail.
To avoid plagiarism, you must read, take notes, and write carefully.
In order to incorporate someone else’s ideas into your writing, you need to have a clear understanding of those ideas. Getting a clear understanding of the point of a given journal article, for example, may require several active readings. You may first skim an article once just to get the gist of an author’s point. A second reading might be an investigation into the support for the author’s argument. A third reading might analyze the structure of that argument.
To avoid representing someone else’s ideas as your own, it’s a good idea to take careful notes as you read. But what is the most effective way to do this?
Some students may prefer to use 3×5- or 4×6-inch note cards because:
- Writing on paper encourages you to think about your reading. The process slows you down enough to mentally process and more fully understand the ideas the author is trying to communicate.
- Note cards can be shuffled and rearranged as you organize your thoughts for your paper. Irrelevant information can be easily discarded.
- Because writing by hand takes most people more time than typing (and certainly than copying and pasting), using paper notecards may help you limit the amount of direct copying you do of entire sentences. This may encourage you to summarize more and also help you discover important distinctions between major and minor ideas and between more and less important details in what you read.
Some Potential Disadvantages to Using Note Cards:
- You may lose some cards.
- You may accidentally leave out essential information on a card.
- Writing on cards takes longer than cutting and pasting.
Some students prefer to take notes on a computer or other electronic device because:
- It’s quick and easy to copy and paste from one electronic text to another.
- You can comment or take notes in an electronic article using different colors, different fonts, or the comment feature, or by typing notes in a separate column.
Some Potential Disadvantages to Taking Notes Electronically:
- When you cut and paste, it is easy to lose track of who the author is or where the original text can be found again.
- If you’re not extremely careful about using quotation marks to indicate direct borrowing, you may forget which phrasing you wrote and which comes directly from other texts.
- This could lead you to submit a paper containing others’ phrasing as though it were your own, which constitutes plagiarism. (Remember: not only citations but quotation marks are required whenever we borrow others’ exact phrasing.)
Considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of each approach to capturing important information and phrasing from other texts, you should think about which strategies are likely to work best for you. You may want to experiment with multiple methods for taking and making notes. You’ll get better at note-taking and critical reading the more you practice.
You have several options when you need to integrate others’ ideas and phrasing into your own writing, including summary, direct quotation, paraphrase, and careful blending of these options. For more help, visit More Writing Resources. We also encourage you to study the Writing Program Administration’s (WPA) Statement on Best Practices.