How To Avoid Plagiarism When Writing a Research Paper
Plagiarism is a form of intellectual and authorial misconduct that has become a serious problem in many academic and scientific contexts and must be avoided. In short, plagiarising is using in one’s own work the ideas, thoughts, words, data, theories, images, sounds or other creations of an author, speaker or artist without properly acknowledging the source. The wide variety of research materials now available on the internet may make plagiarism extremely easy, but the consequences of plagiarism in the research-based writing submitted for educational credit, scholarly publication or other professional purposes can be catastrophic. Students guilty of plagiarism can earn failing grades or complete expulsion from a course, degree programme or university, while researchers accused of misconduct can face article retractions and lose employment, research funding, intellectual reputation and professional status. Either way, the destruction of a valuable and rewarding career is often the result. Although intentional plagiarism may seem worse in an ethical sense than unintentional plagiarism, the fact is that both kinds of plagiarism can produce equally unpleasant results and must be strictly avoided when writing research papers. The following tips are designed to help researchers produce academic or scientific writing without slipping into the suspect realms of plagiarism.
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• Take careful and thorough notes whenever you are reading and thinking about the sources you consult for a research paper. Be sure to distinguish in those notes your own thoughts and interpretations from the words and ideas you find in sources.
• Record the bibliographical information for every source you consult. Be accurate and thorough, and ensure that this information appears along with your notes on each source. Citation software may prove helpful for organising and managing this information.
• Consult several sources on a topic to obtain a wider perspective and develop your own thoughts and conclusions. Using only one source can lead to unintentional plagiarism. Remember that primary sources and original studies tend to be particularly useful.
• Avoid cutting and pasting text from sources. Although this practice can be efficient when quoting a passage verbatim, it also enables plagiarism, whereas taking notes in your own words aids comprehension and retention of the material read.
• Never take the research paper or data of another author either in whole or in part and attempt to submit it for publication or grading as your own original work. Having someone else ghostwrite any part of a research paper for you to submit is also unethical.
• Read the sources you intend to use in a research paper carefully and repeatedly to ensure that you understand the meaning. Only if you thoroughly understand the research you are reading will you be able to use it to support your own work in an effective scholarly manner.
• Reflect on the sources you read and develop your own unique argument about your research topic. You will then be able to use sources to support and perhaps contradict your thoughts and ideas, but those sources will not dominate the logic of the paper.
• Paraphrase important information you find in sources. This involves far more than simply replacing words with synonyms or altering small chunks of a longer passage. You need to digest the material you read and then interpret and convey it for your readers in your own words, altering the grammar and structure of the original and presenting the facts and ideas from a perspective relevant to your own research topic and argument.
• Summarise information from essential studies and primary theories associated with your research topic. This involves determining what the key points of a publication are in relation to your topic and using your own words to tell your readers about them briefly, but also clearly, comprehensively and objectively.
• Use quotation marks to enclose any passages that you directly quote from a source, or, if the passage is long, set it off in a block or displayed quotation format. These devices tell readers that the text is not your own, so it is essential to reproduce quoted passages exactly and never misrepresent the words and ideas of the quoted author. It is also a good idea not to overuse direct quotation, so choose your quotations wisely.
• Check your use of sources carefully once your paper is drafted. Paraphrases and summaries should differ markedly in structure and wording from the sources, but accurately represent the meaning and main ideas. Direct quotations should be clearly marked and reproduce sources with precision. In all cases, it should be obvious which ideas and data are your own and which have been borrowed from other researchers.
• Acknowledge the sources of any tables, images, graphs, charts, maps, audio recordings, videos, animations or similar material that you use or reproduce in your paper. If the paper is intended for publication and in some cases even when it is not, formal permission to use this kind of material may be necessary.
• Refer to the authors of the sources you use as you write your paper. It may seem that you are writing ‘According to Smith,’ ‘In a study by Jones’ and the like far too many times, but it is essential to distinguish the ideas you find in sources from your own thoughts.
• Provide accurate in-text citations or note citations whenever you quote, paraphrase, summarise or otherwise use sources. The type and amount of information required varies among documentation styles, so be sure to consult the relevant guidelines or style manual. Remember that a direct quotation usually requires a page number or other specific location indicator.
• Include a bibliography, list of references or list of works cited at the end of your research paper. The list and each entry should be formatted according to the guidelines or instructions you are following and contain accurate and thorough bibliographical information for readers who wish to consult your sources.
• Provide citations whenever you use your own previously disseminated work. Yes, you can plagiarise your own writing and other creations, so self-citation is required for your formally published articles, online research blogs and posts, conference and class presentations, and any other information shared publicly.
• Provide a citation and reference whenever you are in doubt about whether you should or not. Although many well-known facts and bits of common terminology and knowledge can be used without citation, what is well known or common in one field or country may be new in another. It is far better to cite sources too frequently than to be accused of plagiarism.
• Protect your work in progress from theft and unscrupulous use whenever you write a research paper on a computer in a public place. Setting passwords on your files and logging out of programs when you leave your work will help prevent any unintentional associations with those who might be awaiting an opportunity to practice intentional plagiarism.
• Ask trusted mentors or colleagues to read your paper with an eye to your use of sources. Those who are experts in your field or area of specialisation will probably be able to detect potential problems that might otherwise have been identified by a journal editor, peer reviewer or course instructor with unpleasant consequences.
• Make constructive use of anti-plagiarism tools and plagiarism detection software to check your paper. Journal editors and university instructors certainly use such instruments to detect potential instances of plagiarism, so using them to help focus your revisions and resolve problems before submitting your paper for publication or grading is wise.
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