How to avoid plagiarism in college: Resist the temptation!

Mimi & Eunice, “Thief”. (Credit: Nina Paley)

Mimi & Eunice, “Thief”. (Credit: Nina Paley)

It’s late and your research paper is due tomorrow. You have about 20 different sources and it would take an entire day just to cite all of them. For just a brief moment, you consider listing only a handful of these on your works cited page. Stop and resist this temptation to plagiarize  yes, plagiarize. So what is plagiarism, exactly? The short and sweet explanation would be: not citing each and every source you used for information in a paper and not giving an author credit for his or her words or ideas. Unfortunately for students, plagiarism is not always this cut and dry. But don’t worry  just don’t do it. Follow these tips and understand how to avoid plagiarism in college and understand what a plagiarism checker is and how it can work for you instead of against you.

What is plagiarism?

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) defines plagiarism as “the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.” This means that anytime you use information  from a website, an email, a magazine article, a television show, or really ANYWHERE  you must give credit to that source.

What are the different types of plagiarism?

To make matters even more confusing, there is not just one type of plagiarism. In fact, there are many different instances where students can find themselves in some hot water. A website dedicated to helping students avoid the temptation to copy,, offers a list of the most common Types of Plagiarism, including:

  • “Submitting another’s work, word-for-word, as one’s own”
  • Combining “perfectly cited sources with copied passages without citation”
  • Paraphrasing “from multiple sources, made to fit together”
  • Including “proper citation to sources but the paper contains almost no original work”
  • Using “significant portions of text from a single source without alterations”

So, basically, if you aren’t sure whether you should include a source on your works cited page, err on the side of caution and list it.

For instance, did you know that if you read an article on, say, Wikipedia, but don’t include this article in your works cited page, you could be accused of plagiarizing that information? It’s true. In today’s day and age, you MUST cite everything from blogs to online databases  and you have to do it in the correct format.

If you aren’t sure how to do this properly, check out Yale College‘s Citing Internet Sources page. Here you can learn how to correctly include all of your sources in APA, MLA or Chicago style. Definitely worth a bookmark!

How can I make sure my paper won’t be flagged?

The best and most obvious way is to cite all of your sources and use quotation marks around EVERY instance of direct quotes. Yes, this can significantly increase the amount of time you spend on your college essays, but it will definitely be worth it in the long run  especially since universities are really cracking down.

An article in the New York Times, “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age,” written by Trip Gabriel on August 01, 2010, explains that the University of California, Davis had “196 plagiarism cases referred to the disciplinary office” in 2009. And the “majority did not involve students ignorant of the need to credit the writing of others.”

So avoid the temptation to skip citing that blog, and keep your paper safe by following some of the tips presented by Grad Guard‘s article posted by Jenn Sheehan on March 30, 2012, “Plagiarism 101: Your Questions Answered:

  • Give yourself enough time to complete your paper  don’t wait until the night before it’s due.
  • Keep extensive notes and cite each and every source you use while researching.
  • If in doubt, meet with your professor and discuss your concerns.
  • Use an online plagiarism checker like WriteCheck or Grammarly  more and more professors are checking students’ essays on websites like turnitin, so make sure your work won’t get flagged by doing your own check beforehand.

For more information, be sure to check out Questia‘s Avoiding Plagiarism page under the Research tutorials section. Here you can watch videos and take quizzes to ensure you know everything about plagiarism and how to avoid it. You can even use the Default project tab to keep copies of your sources, highlight text and create a bibliography. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? We’d love to read them in the comments below!

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