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Science - Plagiarism & Referencing: Plagiarism Prevention for Students & Academics

Plagiarism Prevention for Students offers a support guidelines for students in prevention of Plagiarism:

In a research paper, you have to come up with your own original ideas while at the same time using work that’s already been done by others.  But how can you tell where their ideas end and your own begin?  What’s the proper way to include sources in your paper?   If you change some of what an author said, do you still have to cite that person? 

Confusion about the answers to these questions often leads to plagiarism.  If you have similar questions, or are concerned about preventing plagiarism, we recommend using the checklist below.

1.  Consult with your instructor

Have questions about plagiarism?  If you can’t find the answers on our site, or are unsure about something, you should ask your instructor.  He or she will most likely be very happy to answer your questions.  You can also check out the guidelines for citing sources properly.  If you follow them, and the rest of the advice on this page, you should have no problems with plagiarism.

2.   Plan your paper

Planning your paper well is the first and most important step you can take toward preventing plagiarism.  If you know you are going to use other sources of information, you need to plan how you are going to include them in your paper.  This means working out a balance between the ideas you have taken from other sources and your own, original ideas.  Writing an outline, or coming up with a thesis statement in which you clearly formulate an argument about the information you find, will help establish the boundaries between your ideas and those of your sources.

3.  Take Effective Notes

One of the best ways to prepare for a research paper is by taking thorough notes from all of your sources, so that you have much of the information organized before you begin writing.  On the other hand, poor note-taking can lead to many problems – including improper citations and misquotations, both of which are forms of plagiarism!  To avoid confusion about your sources, try using different colored fonts, pens, or pencils for each one, and make sure you clearly distinguish your own ideas from those you found elsewhere.   Also, get in the habit of marking page numbers, and make sure that you record bibliographic information or web addresses for every source right away – finding them again later when you are trying to finish your paper can be a nightmare! 

4.  When in doubt, cite sources

Of course you want to get credit for your own ideas.  And you don’t want your instructor to think that you got all of your information from somewhere else.  But if it is unclear whether an idea in your paper really came from you, or whether you got it from somewhere else and just changed it a little, you should always cite your source.  Instead of weakening your paper and making it seem like you have fewer original ideas, this will actually strengthen your paper by: 1) showing that you are not just copying other ideas but are processing and adding to them, 2) lending outside support to the ideas that are completely yours, and 3) highlighting the originality of your ideas by making clear distinctions between them and ideas you have gotten elsewhere.

5.  Make it clear who said what

Even if you cite sources, ambiguity in your phrasing can often disguise the real source of any given idea, causing inadvertent plagiarism.  Make sure  when you mix your own ideas with those of your sources that you always clearly distinguish them.  If you are discussing the ideas of more than one person, watch out for confusing pronouns.  For example, imagine you are talking about Harold Bloom’s discussion of James Joyce’s opinion of Shakespeare, and you write: “He brilliantly portrayed the situation of a writer in society at that time.”  Who is the “He” in this sentence?  Bloom, Joyce, or Shakespeare?  Who is the “writer”: Joyce,  Shakespeare, or one of their characters?  Always make sure to distinguish who said what, and give credit to the right person. 

6.     Know how to Paraphrase:

A paraphrase is a restatement in your own words of someone else’s  ideas.  Changing a few words of the original sentences does NOT make your writing a legitimate paraphrase.  You must change both the words and the sentence structure of the original, without changing the content.  Also, you should keep in mind that paraphrased passages still require citation because the ideas came from another source, even though you are putting them in your own words.    

            The purpose of paraphrasing is not to make it seem like you are drawing less directly from other sources or to reduce the number of quotations in your paper.  It is a common misconception among students that you need to hide the fact that you rely on other sources.  Actually it is advantageous to highlight the fact that other sources support your own ideas.  Using quality sources to support your ideas makes them seem stronger and more valid.  Good paraphrasing makes the ideas of the original source fit smoothly into your paper, emphasizing the most relevant points and leaving out unrelated information. 

7.    Evaluate Your Sources

Not all sources on the web are worth citing – in fact, many of them are just plain wrong.  So how do you tell the good ones apart?  For starters, make sure you know the author(s) of the page, where they got their information, and when they wrote it (getting this information is also an important step in avoiding plagiarism!).  Then you should determine how credible you feel the source is: how well they support their ideas, the quality of the writing, the accuracy of the information provided, etc.  We recommend using Portland Community College’s “rubrics for evaluating web pages” as an easy method of testing the credibility of your sources. 

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Plagiarism Prevention for Academics offers a support guidelines for academics in prevention of Plagiarism:

1. Explain what “plagiarism” means

Of course, most students will tell you they already know what plagiarism means.  But do they really understand the difference between a legitimate paraphrase and a plagiarized one?  Or between a proper citation and an improper one?  Spending some time during the beginning of the course to explain plagiarism may go a long way toward preventing future problems. 

You may also wish to distribute examples of plagiarism and legitimate citation, and then go over the differences together.  This will clarify some of the common misconceptions about plagiarism and reduce the likelihood of “honest mistakes,” while at the same time showing how serious you are about the issue.  Finally, you can direct your students to our website, where they can take a quiz on the difference between plagiarism and legitimate citation.

2. Explain what’s Wrong about Plagiarism

Without instruction, it may be hard for your students to understand the seriousness of plagiarism.  Their response is often: “How can copying some words actually hurt anyone?”  But the reality is that plagiarism is an act of fraud that involves both stealing (another’s intellectual property) and lying (implying that the work is one’s own).  This undermines the principles of trust and respect that make education possible.  But when they plagiarize, students hurt more than just their instructors and the person from whom they steal.  They also hurt themselves, because they fail to acquire the research, analytic, and writing skills that they would have learned by doing the assignment honestly.  Finally, plagiarism also victimizes those classmates who have legitimately earned their grades and degrees, and who will be competing with the plagiarizer for school admissions and jobs.   

3.  Make the Consequences Clear

Students often do not know just what they risk when they plagiarize.  Begin your course by establishing a clear policy on plagiarism.  Give very specific information about the penalties involved.  You may want to create a specific policy for your courses in addition to your institution’s general policy.  Try telling your students, for example, that any case of plagiarism will result in immediate failure of the paper, and that a second instance will result in failure of the course and possibly expulsion, will doubtless make them think twice about it.  Be sure to cite your policy on any research assignments as a reminder  

4.  Start off with Clear Expectations

First, let your students know you expect them to produce thoughtful, original work.  Students are often under the illusion that the goal of their assignments is to collect the best information possible.  Explain to them that while good research is critical, you are even more interested in their ability to transform the information they find into an original and persuasive argument than in their ability to come up with the most or best sources.  The skills they learn in working to further the ideas and arguments of others are a valuable part of what they will take away from their assignments.  Knowing this may help them understand the value of original work. 

You may also want to establish some rules in advance: Should your students collaborate?  Will you require separate “works cited” pages and bibliographies?  How many sources will they be required to consult?  How many sources will they have to include in their paper?  Will online sources be sufficient, or would you like your students to find printed material as well?  Starting off with clear guidelines will prevent most of the confusion that leads to unintentional plagiarism, and allow no excuses for the intentional kind.   

5.  Assign Specific Questions or Topics

Provide a list of topics or questions that you would like your students to address in their papers.  The more particular the questions, the less likely that your students will find papers already written on them.  If you worry that lists like this restrict your students’ creative freedom, you might want to add an option that allows your students to develop their own topics in consultation with you or a teaching assistant. 

6.  Require Students to Submit Thesis Statements, Introductions, Outlines, or Drafts

One of the best ways to ensure that your students’ work is original is to check it during the process of composition.  Since rough drafts, etc., are not as readily available for copying as finished papers, the simple fact that they have to submit one will encourage most of your students to produce original work.  It often takes more work to forge these materials than it does to produce them originally.  Also, if you have time to comment on what they submit, you can monitor how they respond to your feedback and whether their papers show the flexibility of works-in-progress.

7.  Have your students Annotate their Bibliographies

Ask your students to summarize the content and usefulness of their sources in a few sentences.   Be sure to tell them that copying library abstracts or blurbs from the backs of books is not permissible.  Emphasize that the annotation has to be in their own voice and words, and should specifically discuss the relevance of the source to their research.  This exercise should take no time at all for students who have done their work honestly.  Plagiarizers, however, will find it considerably more difficult. 

8.  Assign Oral Presentations

Have your students answer questions about the process of researching and developing their ideas.  This is also an excellent opportunity to ask them specific questions about their papers, and to bring up passages that seem suspicious.  Questions like “This quotation here is a little unclear.  Could you tell me a little more about the article from which you got it?” can be very effective in determining how much work the student did without offending or seeming suspicious. 

9.  Require Recent and Printed Sources

Most papers from online paper mills and other cheating databases are already several years old at best.  Having your students integrate at least one contemporary source in their paper will keep your students up to date on the issues and help ensure legitimate research and work.

10. Assign a Paragraph on the Composition Process

If you do not have your students give oral presentations or turn in drafts during the composition process, you may want to have them submit a paragraph explaining how they arrived at their topic, how they began researching it, what criteria they used for evaluating their sources, and what they learned from the research project.  This will give you an idea of how well they have comprehended the material and the degree of fluency they have in speaking about it.

11.  Encourage Concision

Students often try to “fill space” by “borrowing” material once they have finished with their own ideas.  Tell your students that it is very obvious when they “pad” their papers to fill up page requirements.  Encourage them to be as concise as possible, focusing on the substance of their claims rather than the length of their writing.  Make sure they know  the trick to writing a long research paper lies in coming up with a thesis or argument which requires the assigned number of pages to develop, and not in drawing out the points they make or citing multiple sources to prove a single idea.  

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