Most cases of plagiarism are accidental, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.
Even Led Zeppelin have been accused (on several occasions) of plagiarism in their songs, referring to both the lyrics and some pretty famous guitar riffs.
So if accidental plagiarism can affect even rock legends, how can you be sure to avoid it in your written work?
First, you need to understand just what plagiarism is (and isn’t), then learn the steps you can take to ensure that you’re always giving credit where it’s due.
What Is Plagiarism?
To plagiarize is to pass off someone else’s work as your own. And while the classic example that usually comes to mind is that of a student handing in their friend’s research paper, plagiarism can actually take many forms.
For example, it’s not enough to simply change a few words, or even reuse your own words from another paper (yes, self-plagiarism is a thing!).
Any time you present facts, ideas, or words that aren’t yours, you must give their creators credit by properly citing your sources.
Potential Consequences of Plagiarism
In the academic world, plagiarism can result in a failing grade or even expulsion from your school or university.
In the real world, plagiarism is not actually illegal—that is, as long as you aren’t infringing on intellectual property rights, which include copyrights and trademarks.
In such cases, legal consequences can range from fines to civil suits and even some jail time, in certain circumstances.
Bottom line: always do your best to avoid plagiarism, no matter where your work will be published.
6 Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism
Below are 6 tips for avoiding plagiarism in research papers, reports, blogs, manuscripts, and more.
1. Understand Plagiarism
The first step to avoiding plagiarism is understanding just what plagiarism is in the first place.
Pieces of common knowledge do not need to be cited. “Common knowledge” can be defines as anything that is widely known or can easily be verified.
For example, “Donald Trump is the current president of the United States” is a fact that can be considered common knowledge. There’s no need to cite it, since most people know that.
In addition, the evidence you gather after running your own tests or conducting your own experiment do not need to be cited (though you should explain your process).
However, any time you reference ideas that are not your own and that are not common knowledge, you should be sure to cite.
And it doesn’t matter whether you’re including a direct quote from National Geographic or paraphrasing the ideas of a keynote speaker: even if you’re not copying word for word, failing to cite your source in such a case does constitute plagiarism.
2. Cite Your Sources Properly
So, on the subject of citing sources, it’s important that you know how to do so properly.
You should also include a reference page or bibliography at the end of your work if you have sources to cite. However, depending on your professor or publisher, you may be expected to use in-text or parenthetical citations that follow the rules of a specific style guide.
Citations usually include, at the very least, the author/source’s name or the title of the source publication. Depending on the style guide you’re using, you might be expected to include additional information, such as the page number or publication year,
If this all sounds a bit complicated, never fear! There are plenty of citation generators out there that allow you to simply enter the information for your sources, then format the citation appropriately according to your style guide of choice.
If you’re writing a book, be sure to check out our guide on how to write citations for a book.
No one’s saying that you can’t use the exact words of an expert to back up your claims; but if you do, you must cite that source in order to avoid plagiarism.
3. Paraphrase (and Cite!)
Another way to avoid plagiarism is by paraphrasing, or rewording. However, while this will save you from committing explicit, word-for-word plagiarism, you’ll still need to cite the source, since the idea still wasn’t yours, even if you’ve found different words to express it.
You might paraphrase in order to make technical language more clear to your audience. Nonetheless, a paraphrase requires the same kind of attribution needed for a direct quote.
4. Add Your Own Ideas
One sure way to avoid plagiarism? Add your own ideas!
Whether your task is to reflect on a poem, suggest a solution to a policy issue, or explain the cause of WWII, you must think something about the subject at hand.
While you’ll still most likely need to refer to the facts throughout your paper (and cite them, of course), you can beef up that content by adding your own original ideas, and not just the analysis of experts you’ve found online.
After all, those original ideas and fresh insight are what will make your thesis paper, report, or book valuable.
5. Start Your Reference Sheet Early
When you’re writing a paper or book that’s particularly research heavy, keeping track of all the sources you’ve used can get tricky.
One solution is to start a running reference sheet as soon as you begin your research. You can also do this by organizing your notes by source, with a citation at the top of each page.
In this way, when it comes time for in-text or parenthetical citations, you won’t have to struggle to remember which information belonged to which source.
6. Use a Plagiarism Checker
Finally, even if you think you’ve taken every protective measure against plagiarism, it never hurts to have the help of technology on your side.
Usually, you’ll get a report telling you how much of your work is original, along with suggestions about where sources might be needed.
Learn How to Avoid Plagiarism
Plagiarism, even when committed accidentally, can land you in some pretty hot water. Learn how to avoid committing plagiarism by properly citing your sources and adding your own unique take on your subject.
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