In the midst of writing a research paper, sometimes brain fog sets in. It’s times like these that it’s all too easy to skirt the line between sourcing ideas and downright plagiarizing. In stricter schools, even just improperly citing an idea can be grounds for a plagiarism investigation, and although you might like to believe that this could never happen to you, it’s important to pay extra attention to ensure that you’re giving credit where credit is due. After all, a case of plagiarism could be grounds for failing the course or, in some cases, expulsion.
We’re not trying to scare you – it’s most probable that you’ll do fine. That being said, here’s a quick refresher before you dive into that research paper.
Knowing when to direct quote.
Did an author say something better than you could have said it yourself? Do you want to reference a specific section of a text? It’s never a bad idea to use the author’s exact words to make your point easier to understand, as long as you quote him or her properly. Use quotation marks around the words that you copy from someone else, and always provide an in-text citation. Most importantly, use direct quotes only when totally necessary – don’t use them just to add to the length of your paper.
Knowing when to paraphrase.
It’s fine to use another person’s idea – after all, that’s how we learn – but it’s important to use totally unique words when expressing it. Compare closely to ensure that you’re using your own phrasing, and then provide an in-text citation for where you got the source just to be safe.
Knowing when to use and cite data.
Graphs, charts, pictures, and maps can often help illustrate a point, but it’s important to realize that you didn’t generate this data and you have to cite your sources on these as much as with anything else. Don’t hesitate to take a visual that best illustrates necessary information, but also be sure to provide a citation. As a side note – don’t use pictures to add length to your paper. Don’t count them when calculating how long your work is.
Never re-use your own work.
Yes, it is possible to plagiarize yourself, and far too many students get caught making this silly mistake. It’s not okay to submit the same piece of work for two separate assignments, even if they were given at different schools. Keep in mind – if you’re attending a top online school, you may be subjecting your work to be screened electronically for plagiarism, so getting caught for self-plagiarism can happen too easily. Better safe than sorry!
More things to remember…
Even if you’re quoting or citing a source that isn’t tangible or in print – such as, for example, an interview you had with an expert or a speech from a seminar you attended – you still have to provide a source.
Keep a running list of all quotes, information, and sources you plan to use so you can reference it later.
You don’t have to cite common knowledge – for example: all humans have brains – but if you aren’t certain if information is common knowledge or not, then play it safe and provide a citation.