November 12, 2014

Keeping it honest: Preventing plagiarism in your work

Plagiarism can be a confusing and sometimes daunting topic for students. Deb Eerkes of Student Conduct and Accountability shares five simple tips to avoid plagiarism in all of your academic writing. 

As you settle into the second half of the semester, you may be working on writing – term papers, essays, lab reports, and other assignments. While each faculty/department may require slightly different forms of citation, all of them recognize the need to acknowledge your sources. Citing your sources is the best way to avoid plagiarism. Here are five ways to avoid plagiarism in your writing:

(Image credit Jenna Clarahan)
1. Understand what plagiarism is.
Take time to learn the University of Alberta’s definition of plagiarism found here (and on every course outline you receive). Understand that even if you unintentionally use another’s work in your assignment without citation, you are representing someone else’s work as your own. Be sure your citations are accurate so that you are not taking credit for anyone else’s words, ideas, images or data — anything you did not generate on your own must be cited!

2. Learn how to paraphrase.
Putting someone else’s ideas into your own words is only part of what you need to do when you paraphrase. You must also indicate who the original author was. For examples and practice, see the exercises at the end of the academic integrity handbooks for graduate students and undergraduate students.

3. Carefully keep track of your sources.
When you research many sources and spend a lot of time thinking about what you’ve read, it is easy to lose track. You may forget that something was not your own idea, or you may not be able to find a source you remember reading previously. Always keep track of what you’ve read. Ways of keeping track include:
  • taking careful notes
  • making a list of websites you’ve consulted
  • printing out online articles that you found
  • being extra cautious to copy-and-paste the URL every time you have copied-and-pasted text.
If you are unsure how to cite a particular kind of source, make sure you consult a style guide for the citation style you are using, whether it’s APA, MLA, Chicago or other. See the Libraries page on Research, Writing and Citing for more information, or check out the Student Success Centre’s various writing workshops.

4. Manage your time.
Procrastination is one of the leading causes of plagiarism – time tends to slip away when you’re busy and the next thing you know, your paper is due in two days and you haven’t started yet. Citation of sources, especially when you’re new at it, takes time and concentration. If you are rushed and tired, you will not likely have the energy or concentration you need. Make sure you start early enough that you can: 1.) write a good paper, and 2.) have time to check and recheck your citations before you hand it in.

If you simply can’t manage to get the paper in on time, ask for an extension rather than handing in a paper containing plagiarized work. When it comes down to it, not handing in the paper at all is preferable to submitting a plagiarized paper, as the latter could result in an outright failure in the course.

5. Manage your stress
People under stress tend to make poor decisions, meaning that stress can be an underlying cause of plagiarism. Your academic term is structured in such a way that you will always have to juggle multiple assignments or exams at the same time, which can be extraordinarily stressful. Managing your time helps immensely, but also think about other ways to keep your stress levels in check. If you feel overwhelmed, seek help from one of the many services on campus.

And as always, if you have any doubts about using sources correctly, ask the professor who assigned the paper. More tips are available at