How to Avoid Plagiarism in College

Apr 19, 2019 by

Ever wonder how much of an external source you are allowed to use when writing a college paper? It can be confusing, especially if you aren’t sure exactly what constitutes plagiarism. This is an issue that professors and students deal with on a daily basis. Professors must evaluate student submissions for originality, and students must decide how much to rely on external sources with each paper they write.

Some students plagiarize unknowingly. But whether it’s intentional or unintentional, the consequences are often the same, so you should be equipped to determine whether you’ve crossed the line in using sources.

Definition of Plagiarism & Knowing When to Cite: Two Basic Rules

A common excuse I encounter as a professor is that the student didn’t understand the definition of plagiarism. Two definitions of plagiarize from the Merriam-Webster dictionary are as follows:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

How exactly can you know when you are committing “literary theft?” Well, here are two golden rules to remember when it comes to using external sources:

If you use somebody else’s exact words, you must give that person credit.

If you use somebody else’s ideas, even if you use your own words to express those ideas, you must give that person credit.

The bottom line here is that the reader should be able to tell when you are using ideas or words that aren’t your own. For instance, in the above reference to Merriam-Webster, I italicized the words from that source and clearly prefaced them with a statement that indicated I was about to use material that I didn’t write myself.

How to Make Sure You Don’t Plagiarize

Even when you understand the definition of plagiarism, habits developed throughout primary school years may have conditioned you to use too much of a source without giving proper credit. Some students have been taught that using another person’s ideas but phrasing it in their own words without properly attributing the ideas is a perfectly acceptable practice. Unfortunately, this is technically plagiarism and will get you in trouble. So how do you break out of bad citation habits and begin giving credit where credit is due?

There are several methods to avoid this. One of these methods is the banal verification of the uniqueness of the article, which in our time can be conducted online. And the services themselves provide links to resources from where not unique information was taken. Maybe this is not an ideal method, but already something to begin with. But many use simpler methods, although not always the right ones. This is a write paper service that does all the work for you. But the fact is that not all of these services provide resources and you still have to do work to find the resources used. Therefore, the best method is to simply save all the resources from which information is taken from the very beginning.

When you’re using external sources, it can be difficult to put that information out of your mind as you write your own words. Anyone worried about plagiarizing in this manner should take advantage of any school plagiarism checking resources. Many college libraries, and especially the larger online college libraries, offer this service.

If you find that you actually plagiarized some material word-for-word without realizing it, then it’s probably a good idea to rethink the whole paper. If you don’t find any obviously plagiarized portions, but are still wondering if you weren’t original enough, then make a point to not have your source material in front of you when you write. Unless you are just a whiz at memorization, then it’s highly unlikely you’d be plagiarizing that way. With that said, when in doubt, cite your sources. If you cite, then you are covering your bases. That’s probably the easiest rule to remember.

Don’t Get Penalized for Unintentional Plagiarism

It’s really unfortunate when a student gets penalized for unintentional plagiarism. But, just as anything else in life, ignorance of the rules is no excuse. Keep the tips above in mind as you conduct research and draft papers, and you will likely be able to avoid this mistake.

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