How to Avoid Plagiarism by eNotes

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What's a good process for writing and citing sources and avoiding plagiarism, especially by accident? Can plagiarism happen when you give credit where it isn't due?

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thielgrad04 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

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In response to the statement "Plagiarism can happen when you give credit where it isn't due--like documenting the wrong source," this is TRUE. Just like it is considered plagiarism if you intentionally (or not) take someone else's words or ideas as if they are your own, incorrectly citing a piece of text is like giving someone else, who is probably completely unaware, that credit. So, even if you aren't taking the credit yourself, you just inadvertently gave someone else credit they weren’t due.

However, before you can avoid plagiarizing, you have to be able to identify what constitutes plagiarism. A couple of the most common (and sometimes tricky) culprits include the following:

  • copying someone else’s words or ideas word-for-word without placing the text within quotes, or not identifying the owner or the text whose words you took
  • The tricky part that a lot of people don’t realize: changing a few words using a thesaurus doesn’t make the original idea suddenly belong to you. It’s still the same, even if you change a couple adjectives or verbs.

Consider this: Think about the telephone game you may have played as a child. The first person to say something is the person who receives the credit. Now, as the sentence gets repeated from one person to the next, something within the sentence changes—a word is often interchanged, added, or removed. For a while, at least, the phrase probably carries the same idea, or meaning as the first person intended. But, in many cases, by the time the phrase is repeated half a dozen to a dozen times, all those words that were interchanged, added, or deleted, may have taken on different meanings, and may eventually having nothing to do with what the first person had said at all. The last person to repeat what they heard (or thought they heard) is much less likely to have plagiarized.

This is why, even without quoting directly, you must still cite the information, preferably at least by the end of every paragraph, unless you’ve interchanged sources, because while you’re less likely to stray off topic, unlike what could happen in the telephone game, it’s important to understand the context of the source, what you’re researching, and what you’re planning to write about, so that you can write about that expert’s idea from a source in as much your own words and understanding as possible.

So, to avoid pitfalls such as this one, I’ll talk about some of the easiest and most straightforward strategies that can help you avoid plagiarism by whatever means.

The first step to take if you want to avoid plagiarizing is to find a method of organization that works for you before you start your research. The commonly used practice is to use index cards for putting the source information of a specific text or article on it, meaning each source gets its own index, or source card. As you locate sources, label each card with 1, 2, 3, and so on. 

* This means you will be writing your sources by hand, so write legibly and consistently. Include all information about the source that you would need for your works cited or bibliography page.

These source cards will come in handy when you are looking at information or ideas from that author/person (this also applies to videos, interviews, seminars, etc.) and you want to make note of what you think may be relevant/interesting.

The second step is to use more index cards to write down notes from each source without combining more than one source on the same index card. You can label that note card with the corresponding number of the source material's card. So, that way, if you look at some notes you wrote down that are labeled with a 3, you'll know that the source of that information came from source three. There are also a couple tips to...

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