January 24, 2010 by Ryan
How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Research Paper
Research Paper Plagiarism Basics
Plagiarism occurs when an individual uses ideas or modes of expression from another source without giving credit to the original author. Plagiarism can be malicious, i.e., cutting and pasting work from another source and claiming it as your own, but it can also be less intentional. For example, many students working on research papers keep their sources open in Web browser windows or textbooks, and when writing, refer to the original sources so often that the words and ideas of the original authors creep into the paper or assignment, making it plagiarized material. This doesn’t mean that students should be afraid to use source material when writing a research paper, but it does indicate the importance of being vigilant about using your own words and crediting the work and ideas of others.
Proper citation is a critical component in avoiding plagiarism. Generally speaking, parenthetical citations or footnotes (depending on the citation style) are needed at the end of a sentence or paragraph containing ideas gleaned from another source that have been presented in the paper in your own words. Putting something into your own words is more comprehensive than replacing a few key words with synonyms.
The best way to be sure that something is truly presented in your own words is to read and study your source material until you are confident that you have a thorough understanding of the material that you plan to incorporate into your research paper, then close all browser windows, books, and papers, and write what you remember. After writing what you remember, feel free to check your source material against your work for accuracy and vocabulary, but be sure to put your sources away again before any extensive writing.
It is occasionally appropriate to use direct quotations from source material or experts in the field of study to highlight important points in a research paper. Generally speaking, the use of direct quotations should be restricted to accentuating or supporting a concept that has already been explained in your own words.
When using a direct quotation, the words must be put into quotation marks (or indented and single-spaced if the quote is longer than three lines), and a citation must appear directly following the quote. Failure to use appropriate citation indicators, such as quotation marks and reference citations, when using direct quotations will always result in plagiarized material.
Another way that plagiarism often appears in academic writing is through students working together on an assignment. Often, collaboration is a critical part of coursework. Professors are typically very supportive of study groups and other methods of students helping one another to understand material. However, when writing individual assignments and research papers, it is important that students are graded on their own work.
The principle of putting away your sources can be similarly applied to study groups: work with other students to share and understand the material that will support your research paper, but be sure to actually write the paper on your own. Often, this means disengaging from the study group or a roommate, and writing the paper in isolation. Remember that using email or instant messaging systems while writing may produce the same results as physically talking about the material as you write, so these should be avoided as well during the actual writing of the paper.
How to Avoid Plagiarism in Your Research Papers
- Research your topic thoroughly, but put all source material away before actually writing the paper. This includes closing all browser windows containing source material.
- If group work is permitted and/or appropriate, work with others to discuss and understand the topic, but do the writing of the paper on your own. Don’t use email or instant messaging while writing the paper.
- Be sure to cite any ideas that are not your own. Generally, a parenthetical citation is needed at the end of a sentence or paragraph that contains new information about a topic that was gleaned from your reference material.
- Direct quotations should be used sparingly to highlight or support important points that have already been described in your own words. Direct quotes must be contained in quotation marks and require a citation immediately following the quotation.
- Never cut and paste material from another source and claim that it is your own work.
When putting material into your own words, do not simply replace key words with synonyms. Research papers should contain writing that expresses your own understanding of the material, in your own words.