When writing a text, there are many potential things to struggle with. Ideas, motivation, creativity, endurance… Yet, when writing assignments or a thesis, there is something else that demands a lot of attention: plagiarism.
When writing an academic or scientific report, it’s essential to use other people’s work. And what’s just as important is to cite them properly. Every school, every field of study, has different regulations when it comes to citations, and they may even differ from teacher to teacher or professor to professor. We won’t dive into how you should cite but instead bring some light into the whole business about plagiarism.
Many regard plagiarism as copying or borrowing someone else’s words or ideas, but these terms deceive the severity of the whole deal. Plagiarism is, intentionally or not, an act of fraud. Thus, copying the original idea and words of someone without giving a source and citing correctly is simply regarded as stealing. Even the intentional or unintentional omission of quotation marks can be and mostly is regarded as plagiarism.
All in all, the following points, taken from Plagiarism.org, are regarded as plagiarism:
- turning in someone else’s work as your own
- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not
There are many kinds of plagiarism that can go from handing in someone’s entire work as your own, up to citations that link to sources that do not exist, or mixing the work of different people together so there is no own work involved despite proper citation.
One should also distinguish between intentional and unintentional plagiarism. In the end, it doesn’t make a difference when the act of plagiarism has been conducted in ill intention or without knowing it, the repercussions are the same.
The difference is more of a personal one. Unintentional plagiarism can be prevented by learning, research, and learning from mistakes. Many sections at university provide sheets on proper citations, and the professor or teacher responsible can always be asked about the preferred citation style.
If a work was plagiarized intentional, however…
The first step to avoid plagiarism takes place even before the writing. When collecting sources for your work, make sure that you do not only copy/write down the crucial parts, but also the author, date of publishing, page number, etc. Keeping everything in one place also prevents much time spent with searching.
Also, informing yourself beforehand about the preferred citation style by requesting and downloading sheets or consulting the respective professor or teacher does not only save time but also functions as a reminder to not forget about citing in the first place.
Also, check out this quite useful infographic that helps you to find out whether you are plagiarizing without knowing it.
The number one rule of thumb is to always cite when you’re in doubt. Don’t shy away from using direct quotes, putting them in between quotation marks. There should be special sections in your paper or work where you can put down the groundwork other’s did and which you will use for your work. Having such a, more or less, fixed place will make it easier to re- or double-check when you’re done writing as well.
While writing, it’s also a good strategy to mark ideas and quotes taken from others, either with a note or by highlighting them in a different color. Thus, you will also gain a good overview of how much of your own work went into the paper, avoiding the form of plagiarism that takes and twists and combines other people’s ideas.
Furthermore, re-checking for you and potential proofreaders will become easier with regard to citation due to this highlighting as well.
Software like Citavi and EndNote can make citing easier for you as well since they help you to organize your sources and automatically place citations inside the text (either as footnotes, endnotes, or parentheses) with the correct references. Many universities own a free license to such programs for their students.