Avoiding plagiarism: How to write your papers with honesty and integrity

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The internet has made it easy use, copy and share information. Content is virtually everywhere! A simple Google search can lead to millions of resources on a variety of topics.

In addition to books and printed materials, students can choose from a wide array of blogs, journals as well as multimedia and interactive materials.

This over abundance of information can be both a blessing and a curse. While it’s easier to conduct research, it’s also easier for students to intentionally or unintentionally plagiarize. Plagiarism is copying an idea or information from another person’s work and not giving proper credit. It will look as if you are meaning to pass off the work as entirely your own – that’s why it’s dishonest.

Canadian schools consider plagiarism as a serious offense. It can get you expelled from school. It can also pull your credibility down and affect your career in the future.

“Plagiarism is copying an idea or information from another person’s work and not giving proper credit. It will look as if you are meaning to pass off the work as entirely your own – that’s why it’s dishonest.”

Kinds of plagiarism

Aside from copying and pasting without proper credit, these instances may also be considered plagiarism:

  • Copying somebody else’s paper/report/project or sharing yours to others (for them to submit as theirs).
  • Re-using your own (and passing it off as new work) or another person’s past work (without acknowledgement).
  • Paying somebody to write a paper or essay or buying a ready-made one.
  • Using data, images, music without citation or permission.
  • Choosing certain words and replacing them with synonyms or paraphrasing multiple sources and mixing them together in an attempt to pass off the statement as your own.
  • Making up a source that doesn’t exist or making up a quote and attributing it to a source.

Best practices to avoid plagiarism

As an honest academic, how do you avoid committing it?

  1. Use your own ideas, insights and opinions

    The value of writing papers is to go through the process of gathering, understanding, analyzing, synthesizing and then evaluating information. After going through this process, you are expected to form your own original ideas and conclusions to demonstrate what you’ve learned.

  2. Keep track of your information

    Arrange your data and note down complete details about each one, noting the source, author, date the work was published, page numbers, etc. so that you can easily look them up when you need to cite them. It will also make this easier for you to check your paper thoroughly to make sure that it is plagiarism-free.

  3. Use proper attribution

    Attribution is giving proper credit where credit is due. You must mention the name of the author and the source for any idea, data, facts and figures, or any other detail in your paper that is not yours originally. It shows that you don’t intend to steal information.

    There are various ways to properly cite sources. The most commonly used for academic papers are the APA, MLA or Chicago (annotated bibliography) citation styles but there are other formats as well. Some use footnotes while others prefer endnotes. The safest way to know which style to use is to consult your professor.

  4. Paraphrase

    You can choose to quote the reference directly (make sure to follow citation rules) but it is better to use your own words to express an idea and how it relates to your own work. But even if you paraphrase, you still need to cite the source.

    How about ideas that are logical or common? There is such a thing as common knowledge. This is information that everyone knows and would not have to look up. Examples of this are: “winter is cold” or “Manitoba is a prairie province.” Common knowledge does not need to be cited.

  5. Ask for advice and help

    If citation rules are not clear to you and you want to be absolutely sure that you don’t commit plagiarism, talk to your professor. Your teacher will be able to answer your questions and provide additional resources to help you. You can also ask a librarian about best practices on citation and attribution. Lastly, check out online resources for citation guidelines and help in organizing your sources. Visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), Manchester Academic Phrasebank or Zotero.

  6. Use Creative Commons

    There are movements that encourage the open sharing of resources on the internet. An example is Creative Commons (CC). Creative Commons is a system of copyright licences to help content creators legally share their work and indicate how others can use them. CC-licenced materials range from photos and videos to songs and stories and other media. If you are using these materials, make sure to follow their rules for use and attribution. For more information, read What is Creative Commons and why do you need to know about it?

Article updated January 12, 2023.
Sources: Steps to avoiding plagiarism, Ashford University; Plagiarism.org; Plagiarism, Algonquin College; How to avoid plagiarism: In 5 easy steps, Steelman Library; and Preventing plagiarism, Plagiarism.org. Accessed September 6, 2019.

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