Working with Sources; Avoiding Plagiarism
Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s ideas or words as your own. A form of academic dishonesty, it carries potentially severe penalties, ranging from failing the assignment, failing the course, to expulsion from the university. You are responsible for the writing you submit at the university; you are 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 catalog to see 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. To get a clear understanding of the point of a given journal article, for example, may require several active readings. You 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 the argument.
To avoid representing someone else’s ideas as your own, you must take careful notes as you do your research. Some of you may prefer to use note cards because:
- Writing long hand forces you to think about your reading. The process slows you down enough to assimilate the ideas the author is trying to make.
- Note cards can be shuffled and rearranged as you organize your thoughts for your paper. Irrelevant information can be easily discarded.
- Having to write notes longhand may help you limit the amount of direct quoting you do, and may encourage you to summarize more.
There are disadvantages to using note-cards:
- You may lose some cards.
- You may get sloppy and forget to include the author name on each card.
Writing on cards takes longer than cutting and pasting. On the other hand, some prefer to take notes on the computer, because
- It’s so quick and easy to cut and paste
- You download entire articles and keep a copy of them
- You can comment or take notes in an electronic article using different colors, different fonts, the comment feature, or by typing notes in a separate column.
Just like note cards, taking notes on the computer has potential pitfalls: When you cut and paste, it is easy to lose track of who the author is or where the source article can be found again. (If you cannot name the source, you may not use the information.)
When you download an article, you may opt not to take notes, thinking it more efficient to simply refer back to the original. However, omitting the note-taking stage may hinder your thorough comprehension of the author’s purpose and argument.
You may confuse your words and thoughts with those of other researchers because you haven’t made clear distinctions when you’re typing and cutting and pasting.
Whether you are taking notes on the computer or on cards, you must clearly differentiate between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing, and you must always clearly indicate the author and page number in your notes. Then when you write, you will know exactly when, who, and what to cite.
- Incorporating the ideas of others into your work requires that you consider many questions:
- What is the author trying to say?
- How does this piece of information relate to what other researchers have said about the topic?
- How does this piece of information relate to the point(s) you are trying to make?
- Is it clear which ideas are yours and which originate elsewhere?
- Do you have all the pertinent bibliographic material? Before you submit your work, check to be sure that answers to all of these questions are evident in your text.
When do I cite?
Keep in mind, that although over-citing may be cumbersome, it shows that you have done your research. Under-citing, on the other hand, is dishonest, and may suggest weak research.
If you have questions about plagiarism, how to cite correctly, or how to incorporate the ideas of others into your work, talk with your instructor, consult a writing center coach, or check a writing manual. For formatting concerns, consult the appropriate style guide for your discipline: Modern Language Association (MLA) Handbook for the Humanities, The Publication Manual for the American Psychological Association (APA) for social sciences and business, Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, for history, and the Council of Biological Editors (CBE) for natural and physical sciences.