• 3-minute read
  • 26th July 2016

The Peril of Plagiarism and 5 Ways to Avoid It

Plagiarism is a major problem in academic writing. However, since we are naïve, optimistic types who will almost certainly perish in the upcoming Mad Max-style apocalypse, we like to assume that nobody plagiarises on purpose.

Come the end times, proofreaders will be forced to wander the streets, looking for spelling mistakes amidst the ruins of civilisation. [Image: Ty'Onah Gallman/flickr]
Proofreaders will be forced to wander the streets, looking for spelling mistakes amidst the ruins of civilisation. [Image: Ty’Onah Gallman/flickr]
Nevertheless, it’s fairly common to proofread a document and notice a passage of text that seems to have been lifted from a source without attribution.

But what exactly is plagiarism? What are the consequences? And what can you do to avoid it?

What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism involves, intentionally or otherwise, presenting someone else’s work as if it was your own. This will typically be because someone has copied or paraphrased a passage of text without clearly indicating its origin.

The consequences of plagiarism are severe: depending on your university, it could include anything from being docked marks on a particular essay to being kicked off your course entirely!

Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden for copying the serpent’s homework. [Image: Wellcome Images]This makes it essential to know what counts as plagiarism and how to avoid accidentally plagiarising other people’s ideas in your work.

How to Avoid Plagiarism: 5 Key Factors

  • Check Your Style Guide

Your university’s style guide should set out all the conventions required for citing sources in your work. This is crucial, as different referencing systems have different rules and you don’t want to use the wrong citation style!

  • Cite All Sources Clearly

You should cite a source any time your arguments or ideas depend on someone else’s work. This includes when quoting or paraphrasing a source directly, but also when using information or data from another source to support your own conclusions.

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Make sure that all citations include the details required by your style guide. Furthermore, every source cited in your essay should be accompanied by full publication information in a reference list/bibliography.

  • Use Quotation Marks Correctly

Any time you quote a source, make sure to use quotation marks and include a citation with the relevant page numbers. Missing out quotation marks could make it look like you are trying to pass off a quote as your own work.

  • Use Your Own Words

Paraphrasing a passage you want to cite is usually better than quoting it directly. Doing this shows that you’ve understood the information and can rephrase it in your own words.

This means writing a completely new sentence, though. Simply copying the original and changing some of the words could still be considered plagiarism.

Needless to say, copying from Wikipedia and leaving in the [Citation Needed] tag will look particularly bad.

  • Remember to Cite Images

As well as text, plagiarism can include using images, charts or photographs taken from another source without clear attribution. Unless you’ve created all the images and charts in your document yourself, make sure to cite these clearly.

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