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Avoiding Plagiarism

Submitted by burnsc on Tue July 22, 2014 - 10:30am

How can I avoid plagiarism in my written assignments?

Students may be unaware that the work they have submitted may be considered as plagiarism simply because they are unaware of what constitutes inappropriate use of textual materials. Nonetheless, this is still considered plagiarism, and it is your responsibility to know the rules. There are a few things that you can do to not only avoid plagiarism but also improve the quality of your writing.

(1) Keep track of your references

Each time you read an article, write out all of the bibliographic information you need to create a complete citation (e.g. Author(s) name, year, title, journal name, website address, date accessed etc.). If you don't keep track of where you find information, you will not be able to properly reference it when you start writing.

(2) Use several references

Don't just find a single paper on your topic and use it exclusively to write your paper. You will find it more difficult to generate your own ideas and you will be more likely to paraphrase large sections of the text. The University of Calgary subject librarians are a tremendous resource if you are having difficulty finding articles on your topic. You can email, phone or even stop by the reference desk on the 2 nd floor of the library block. Many of the librarians even hold office hours in the science complex.

(3) Take notes!

The biggest mistake that you can make when preparing to write is not taking notes. If you just read the reference information and then start writing, referring back to the papers frequently, you will be more likely to simply copy and paste sentences from your references and less likely to critically evaluate the information and generate your own ideas. Instead, once you have compiled all of the bibliographic information you need, take notes on the major points and ideas presented in the text or paper. The most effective way to do this is to develop a system that you use for every reference. When creating your system keep in mind the following:

  • Keep track of which are your ideas and what are the author's ideas (perhaps use a different colour pen or underline your ideas).
  • Never copy any portion of the article word for word (unless you intend to use it as a quotation and then be sure to put it in quotation marks).
  • Do not paraphrase large sections of a paper. If you are paraphrasing information from another source, do not just copy the information word for word, or simply substitute synonyms for key terms —both of these approaches constitute plagiarism. Instead, identify the main ideas in the original work that are relevant to your paper, and re-state these ideas in your own words. This approach will take some work, but it is a skill that is important for success not only in University but also in whatever career you pursue. For help with this and other writing skills, contact the Effective Writing Program.
  • Whether you are using cue cards, a word processor or a spreadsheet, taking good notes is crucial to writing a successful paper!

(4) Create an outline

There are very few writers who just sit down and write a paper from beginning to end without a plan in place. Spend some time to figure out how you want your ideas to flow throughout the paper. It isn't necessary to point out every fact that you want to address, but without a general idea where your paper is going, you will have a difficult time when you start writing.

(5) Put your references in your paper as you go!

Don't wait until the end to put in your references—you will never remember who said what and which ideas are yours!

(6) Read, re-read and then ask a friend to read it!  

Don't think that your first draft is your last! Take the time to critically evaluate what you have written and don't be afraid to cut, add and revise. Reading your paper out loud will help you find awkward sections or leaps in logic. Ask a friend to read your paper—and ask them to give honest, critical and professional suggestions for improving it.

(7) Make an appointment with a tutor at the Effective Writing Program.

Undergraduate students wanting to improve their writing can book up to two, 30-minute tutorial sessions per week. This isn't a proofreading service but the tutors can help you develop strategies for writing more effectively as well as working on overall essay structure and grammatical problems.