How to Avoid Losing Credit (or Even Expulsion) Due to Plagiarism

By Douglas Fehlen


1. Understand what plagiarism is.

Typically people have a general idea of plagiarism, but many don't understand it in depth. For instance, most students recognize that using material verbatim without citation is wrong, but they may not realize that paraphrased content and original concepts must also be credited. Read your college's plagiarism policies for a fuller understanding what material must be attributed to its original source.

2. Know citation styles inside and out.

Most professors have a preferred citation style, whether it's APA, MLA or another format developed for a particular field (such as AMA in medicine). Learn how to credit sources within the system you're asked to use. Show deftness citing direct quotes and paraphrasing and crediting ideas. Following the rules of a given documentation system letter by letter will help you to avoid charges of plagiarism.

3. Be organized in your research.

Taking messy, incomplete notes heightens the chance of committing plagiarism. Students may not be able to differentiate their own thoughts from source material. For this reason, it's important to keep orderly research records that clearly show what's yours and what work belongs to others. You might make special notations for quoted material, paraphrased work and ideas original to you.

4. Curb cutting and pasting.

Keeping clear, accurate research notes can be a struggle if you're cutting and pasting a lot of material into a research document. You might instead summarize concepts you're interested in, putting them into your own words and noting their origin. It's a good idea to never paste someone else's work into your actual paper unless it's a direct quote that you are crediting.

5. Paraphrase with care.

Paraphrasing in academic papers would seem a straightforward endeavor, but many students make mistakes. For instance, a writer may simply rearrange or omit a few words from source text and fail to include attribution. Always credit the source of paraphrased prose and unique ideas, placing in quotes any important terms or phrasing that is original to the author.

6. Avoid assumptions about common knowledge.

It isn't necessary to credit a source while relating common knowledge in a paper, but there is unfortunately no clear definition of what that is. Generally speaking, factual information related in several reputable sources without citation may reasonably be considered common knowledge. If you have any doubt, however, it's a good idea to cite the source in which you have found the information.

7. Complete papers on a comfortable schedule.

One of the biggest factors in plagiarism is procrastination. Hurrying students are more likely to inadequately source material or overlook errors they'd easily catch under less pressure. Finishing papers in stages over a period of time can help you to be conscientious at every step, from properly crediting sources in your notes to rereading a completed paper for citation accuracy.

8. Use available documentation tools.

Creating a bibliography or works cited page has never been easier given the plethora of electronic documentation tools available to students. Online resources such as Citation Creator, Citation Machine and Knight Cite can allow you to document sources in wide-ranging formats. Begin compiling a bibliography or works cited page right away when writing a paper to stay on top of sources.

9. Ask if you're uncertain about crediting sources.

There is a lot of gray area when it comes to crediting sources. It's quite understandable, then, that many students struggle to appropriately cite material in their papers. If you have any questions about how (or whether) content should be referenced, ask the instructor who has assigned the paper. This person will be very knowledgeable about the documentation style they've asked you to use.

10. Protect yourself from cheating students.

Believe it or not, some students are punished for plagiarism after having their work stolen by another person. To protect yourself from this fraud, keep a record of drafts that can show work on a paper is yours. Also consider password-protecting your computer and electronic files to help prevent another student from stealing your work and taking credit for what's yours.

Need some general advice on a college paper? Check out a step-by-step guide to writing great research papers.

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