How to Avoid Plagiarism

So, you’ve got an assignment due for class and you’ve been told there are serious consequences for plagiarizing. But what is plagiarism? And how do you avoid it?

According to the Oxford Dictionary online, plagiarism means “The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” This can be as blatant as copying all or part of someone else’s essay off the internet and submitting it as your own essay or as subtle as using a quote and not referencing it correctly. Usually, you will be required to cite exact quotations, reworded quotations, and other people’s original concepts when using them in your work.

Here are five tips to make sure your essay is referenced correctly and is free of plagiarism.

1. Find out the Referencing System You Are Expected to Use

When citing your sources, you will usually be required to use an abbreviated citation as part of the text or as a footnote, and a long-form reference in your bibliography. There are several ways to format these citations, and the system used may vary by professor and course. To find out which system you are supposed to use (Harvard, Chicago, APA, etc.), check your study guide and assignment instructions or ask your professor. Once you know which system and version you are to use, open their referencing guide so you can see the examples as you write.

2. Plan Your Assignments Before You Write

Many plagiarism errors occur when assignments are written at the last minute. When your essay is due in an hour, copying someone else’s essay can suddenly seem very attractive! To avoid this problem, plan out your essay well in advance.

In the planning stage, you might come up with the basic structure, sections, and sub-sections of your essay. In the second stage, add in all the quotations you plan to use and cite them correctly as you go (this saves you a lot of time later!). In the third stage, build your argument sequentially and use the quotations to support your point of view.

3. Build Your Bibliography as You Go

There’s nothing worse than finishing your assignment and then realizing that you haven’t kept track of your sources! Avoid this classic pitfall by compiling your bibliography as you write, making sure to match the names and dates of each in-text citation to the full listings in your bibliography. When you’ve finished, make sure it is formatted correctly, and you’re done!

4. Use a Reference Generator

Formatting your references using the correct punctuation and typeface can be time consuming. To make the process quicker and easier, consider using a reference generator. If your bibliography is going to be longer than a page or so, you might want to install a software program like EndNote to help you manage your reference list. With any program, you will need to check to make sure the references conform to the version of that referencing system that your professor wants you to use. If not, go through the list and make the necessary changes yourself.

5. Check with Your Professor

If there’s a source that you’re not sure how to reference (a web page, YouTube video, DVD, radio show, personal communication etc.), check with your professor. That is the best way to be sure you are avoiding plagiarism and can help you to earn full marks for your reference list! A knowledgeable peer or a tutor can also help you with referencing if you need it.

By following these five tips, you can have a plagiarism-free assignment and a tip-top bibliography. What are you waiting for? Go and get started on that essay now!

Tiffany Rauschenberger is a freelance writer, content strategist, and former graduate assistant. She frequently writes about the latest developments in teaching, public policy, standardized testing, and educational technology for sites like HeyTutor.


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