When you use somebody else’s ideas or writings as your own, that is plagiarism. Plagiarism can include using parts of another student’s work, books, journal articles, songs, newspapers, or even from web pages (Wikipedia being a common offender) but incorporating it into your essay or paper as if it where you own original work. For schools and colleges, plagiarism is a serious offense.
Depending on the college or university it can get you expelled at worst or lead to your exam or coursework being voided. Plagiarism is more than simply copying somebody else’s work and ideas, it can be considered fraud because you pass it off as your own and that is why it is taken so seriously.
However, not all plagiarism is intentional. Yes, some students do try to take shortcuts and will plagiarize because they think that they will not get caught by their lecturer or person marking their exam paper.
Most students who get caught for plagiarizing did not mean to, it was unintentional. It is very easy to accidentally plagiarize by not citing your sources correctly. You need to do more than just cite direct quotes; you need to cite your references even when you paraphrase. There are two ways to avoid plagiarizing; the first one is to always cite your sources and the second is to run your work through plagiarism detection software.
A good paper includes information from cited sources and your own ideas. There are two ways to use sources. The first is to use sources as support for your own ideas about the topic. The second is that you use the sources as a basis for your topic and you use your own ideas and thoughts to expand upon their ideas. If you, for example, want to write a piece on the 1969 Alcatraz Proclamation, you may very well use other sources, but make sure you cite these sources properly or use a plagiarism checker like Copyscape.
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to always document your references and cite them as you work. Your teacher will have told you what style you need to use for citing sources, it will usually be either MLA or APA. Remember, you need to cite any idea or wording that you use that is not your own. With posts about artwork, things might get a little trickier. See also this post about the SFSU Art Gallery.
You will do this by using an in-text citation; in-text citations are also sometimes referred to as internal citations or parenthetical citation. You will list off your in-text citation sources at the end of your paper in a “Works Cited” or Bibliography page, which much match the format that you used for your citations, either MLA or APA.
It is easy to accidentally plagiarize while planning and organizing your paper as well. Many students try to avoid plagiarizing but end up doing so anyway. Try these tips for planning your paper so that you avoid accidental plagiarism:
- Take notes and reference your sources with each note so you are not searching for the information later. If you write down the source right away, you will avoid forgetting to come back and do so later.
- Learn how to properly cite references and how to cite when you paraphrase.
If you want to be sure that you are citing properly and that your “Works Cited” or Bibliography page is correct, you should consider using a referencing tool to help you properly cite your sources. There are a number of citation tools available and you should make use of them. Schools take plagiarism very seriously, even when you did not mean to do it. So check out the help available at SFSU. Avoid accidental plagiarism and always use a reference tool. A list of some of the more popular tools is listed below.
- KnightCite – KnightCite is offered by Calvin College but it is free for anybody to use. You can use it without registering but when you register, you can save your citations and will have the ability to export them to Word. KnightCite does not do in-text citations but it will help you get your “Works Cited” or Bibliography page correctly formatted.
- The Son of Citation Machine – This free tool will help you get both your “Works Cited” or Bibliography citation and your in-text citation for either MLA or APA.
- Citefast – A free citation helper that will help you with your in-text citations, title page creation, and your “Works Cited” or Bibliography page.
Before turning in your paper, it is a good idea to run your work through a plagiarism-detecting website. Nearly all colleges will run digitally received work through a program designed to detect plagiarism so you will be doing yourself a favor by doing the same on your end, before handing in the paper. As long as you have properly cited your direct quotes and when you have paraphrased, you will be fine but it never hurts to check.
There are numerous websites designed to help students avoid accidental plagiarism, some of the most popular sites that you can use are listed below.
- WriteCheck – Nearly all colleges and schools use Turnitin to check for plagiarism. Turnitin has a vast database of periodicals, publications, student papers, and web pages that it checks your paper against. WriteCheck uses this same database to check your paper, which is why it is the best plagiarism detection website out there; it is very likely using the same database that your school will be using. Not only will your paper be checked for plagiarism, but it will also point out any grammar errors in your paper. WriteCheck is not free but it is one of the best and most comprehensive services available to students.
- Viper – This is a free program that you download and then it will scan your paper and check for plagiarism. Part of their terms of service is that you must agree to allow them to store your scanned papers in their database so that it will become part of their student paper database that future papers are checked against.
- Grammarly – Useful to check for online plagiarism, Grammarly will also help generate citations as well as check and correct your grammar. Improve the quality of your writing with Grammarly. A great feature of Grammarly is that you can use their MS Office plugin to help you generate error-free content.
- Copyscape – Copyscape is a very affordable online plagiarism tool. You can copy and paste up to 2000 words of content at a time and run it through their comprehensive online database. You will be told exactly what matched where on the internet so that you can ensure that your paper is original and that anything that is not has a proper citation with it.
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to prevent it. Make sure that you build up your papers by using good notes, always citing your sources as you go. Leave no room for error by trying to put the citations in later. Accidental plagiarism is the most common but it will still get you in trouble. With citation tools and by running your paper through a plagiarism detector you can be assured that you will be turning in your best work, plagiarism free.