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How Plagiarism can be Avoided

The concept of plagiarism is one that is primarily associated with the referencing of academic texts. For example, the definition put forward by the University of Adelaide says plagiarism is the presentation of work that is not one’s own “without appropriate attribution or reference to the original source.”

At times, plagiarism is intentional where a student knowingly copies the work of another person without acknowledging the true source. This practice is also referred to as academic fraud or dishonesty. However, on many occasions, plagiarism can be a case of honest error or misunderstanding, especially where the student is still new to or learning the conventions that pertain to writing academic texts for a particular discipline and where these require supporting evidence that must be properly cited and referenced.

Most college and university lecturers understand that the whole process of learning how to apply proper referencing is one that develops over time and one where the student improves with practice and timely feedback. Students are, however, expected to start using references from the first paper they are asked to write and to make a conscious effort to avoid plagiarism. Where an assignment is plagiarized through honest misunderstanding, a college or university will usually refer the student to appropriate resources that will help them better understand the concepts of referencing and plagiarism. However, that college or university will usually record the occurrence and the student may be asked to revise their work or they may have marks deducted.

Plagiarism – The Different Types

The following are some examples of how plagiarism can happen:
  1. Where one copies or paraphrases work that is someone else’s without properly acknowledging the real source;
  2. Where one adopts the words or ideas of another person, or copies the structure of an already-written essay/paper without acknowledging the true source.
Cheating and colluding are other types of academic fraud or dishonesty and these may include instances of:
  1. Handing in papers that are the same or very similar to the work of other students in answer to the same question or task;
  2. Handing in a written piece that has been answered or written on your behalf by another party or which you have copied from another party;
  3. Handing in a written piece that is identical, substantially identical or very similar for two or more different classes, unless it is part of a study or assessment program has been approved and agreed.

So, How Can One Avoid Plagiarism?

To be certain of avoiding plagiarism, the first step is to properly understand the requirements of academic texts and the specifics of tertiary level study. Tertiary-level writing usually requires some degree of research. This implies the writer is acknowledging that some portions of their written work (at least) have been covered at some previous time. Where an assignment involves essay writing, the topic or question must be analyzed and answered.

These answers or responses often take the form of argument(s) or personal viewpoints and they are usually based on supporting information or evidence taken from different literary sources. Alternatively, a writer can choose to disagree with claims or viewpoints they uncovered in literary texts while supporting their views or critiques by referring to the works of authors whose assertions or viewpoints are akin to their own.

When writing at academic level, it is essential to both analyze what people have said in different works of literature and the manner in which these things have been said. If it becomes obvious that a number of authors use the same particular phrases or methods for structuring sentences, you may assume it is acceptable for you to also use these, provided you use them to convey your own viewpoints. A further mechanism for avoiding plagiarism is to always use some system of referencing, but do this in an accurate and consistent manner. There are a number of referencing or citation systems available, such as:

  • The American Psychological Association (APA) system;
  • The Harvard system, which uses author-date format;
  • The Engineering-style numbering system and
  • The footnote system.

Different schools and colleges tend to have their own preferences where referencing is concerned. Hence, the best way forward is to ask your tutor’s advice.

Irrespective of what system you use, you must acknowledge all source material you use in assignments. These include any summarized information, paraphrased material or direct quotations.

College professors have a number of electronic tools available to them for detecting plagiarism. TurnItIn is one method that is frequently used to examine electronic (or Internet) source material for evidence of cheating. Students can also use the TurnItIn system, subject to approval from their professors, and instructions can be found on the provider’s website.