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Plagiarism Guide: Students: Avoiding Plagiarism

Why Plagiarize?

Students resort to plagiarism for a wide variety of reasons.  Some of the most common reasons are addressed below, along with possible solutions for each.

Suggestions for Avoiding Plagiarism

Time Management

Procrastination is common among college students. In many cases, students underestimate the amount of time needed to complete new research assignments, and in other cases, students are simply overwhelmed and don't know where or how to begin. In these situations, students are more likely to look for shortcuts in completing their projects, and plagiarism can be very tempting in the face of looming deadlines. Fortunately, there are a few simple solutions to this solving this issue of time-management.

  • Start earlier. If you don't feel rushed to complete your assignment, you'll be less tempted to cheat.
  • It helps to remember that research is a process. If you become overwhelmed, break your assignment down into manageable chunks with target completion dates. If you have problems doing this, there are free tools online called assignment calculators, that can help.
  • Ask for help. Whether you need clarification about the assignment, or you just have no idea how to get started, don't be afraid to ask. Helping students with research and citations is exactly what the librarians are here for, so don't be shy.

Note-Taking Skills

Whether the issue is writing too much, too little, or nothing at all, many students arrive at college with poor note-taking skills.

  • Keep in mind that the purpose of research is to answer a question, so as you read, try to limit your notes to the information that actually does answer your question. This will help focus your efforts, so you don't end up wading through pages of irrelevant notes when it's time to write your paper.  The less frustrated you are, the less likely you'll be to plagiarize.
  • As you read, look up the definitions of any words you don't recognize. In order to use information correctly and appropriately, you must first understand the information you're using.
  • Briefly summarize the point/points made in each paragraph and/or each section of the work. Do not write down everything you read word for word, unless you specifically intend to present it as a direct quote in your paper. 
  • Keep up with the correct citation information for the sources that you're collecting, so when it comes time to write and document the paper, all that necessary information will be readily available.

Organizational Skills

When conducting research, it is extremely important that you implement a manageable system of organization, especially for long-term projects or projects that require a lot of sources. As you collect more and more information, it can be very easy to lose track of where and how you found it, which can then make citing it properly very difficult.

  • If you take hand-written notes, try to keep them all in the same notebook, folder, or binder, and include the complete citation information for each source covered, along with information on the type of source (book, e-journal, blog, etc...) and how and where you found it. Not only will this be helpful to you as you begin to write your paper, it will come in handy if you take your paper to a librarian to check your citations.
  • For electronic sources, again, try to keep all the information in a centralized location. The easiest thing to do is to create a specific folder on your computer, in your email, or on your J-Drive. Online tools, such as Zotero, Evernote, and Dropbox are all good options for collecting and organizing information so that it is accessible from anywhere.
  • Note cards, while distinctly low-tech, can be very helpful. On the front of each card you would write down either a specific quote or paraphrased information. On the back, you would write down the specific citation information for both the in-text citation and the references list. Once you've collected all the sources you're going to use, you can organize the cards into the order you plan to cite them in your paper.

Incorrect Citations

Many students end up committing plagiarism because they do not understand how to document their sources.

  • Familiarize yourself with your professor's specific expectations.
  • Pay attention to detail. Many citation issues are the result of careless, easily avoidable mistakes.
  • If you're confused or need help, don't hesitate to speak to your professor and/or a librarian.

Ask a Librarian

Ask a Librarian