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Phoenix Forward magazine

How to avoid plagiarism


Aside from receiving an F on an assignment, there’s nothing more shameful than getting a paper back from an instructor bearing the word “plagiarism” underlined in red ink.

Plagiarism, the unattributed use of someone else’s words or ideas — intentional or unintentional — can have severe consequences, including expulsion from school or termination from a job.

“We take charges of plagiarism very seriously,” explains Amelia Boan, product director for academic tutoring at University of Phoenix, “so it’s essential that students understand what plagiarism is and how to guard against it.” Here are five ways to avoid plagiarism:


Keep track of where you found information.

When you begin research for a writing assignment and find material online to bolster what you want to say, Boan suggests saving that information in a separate document than the one you plan to use for your paper. This strategy can help ensure that you avoid accidentally using information that isn’t yours.


Give credit where credit’s due.

When you quote someone directly or use material from another person or source, you must cite the source. Boan suggests that if you don’t understand how to make proper citations to check out the Center for Writing Excellence (CWE), where you’ll find information about tools, such as the Riverpoint Writer® application, which generates references and citations.


Learn how to paraphrase properly.

Never copy anything word for word from source material, Boan emphasizes, unless you’re directly quoting someone and using quotation marks. Instead, put the information in your own words. The CWE offers a guide to help you practice paraphrasing.


Allow enough time to do your work.

If you rush, Boan says, you could wind up copying ideas from a source — either purposely or inadvertently — instead of writing original material.

“Give yourself adequate time to do your research, digest what you’ve read, and even turn off the Internet or online library,” she suggests, “before beginning to write ideas down, so you know they’ll be your own.”


Use a plagiarism checker.

Before turning in any paper, run it through a plagiarism checker, such as the one at CWE, but first be sure to read the manual next to the checker to understand how it operates, Boan suggests.

The checker searches for material that isn’t original by comparing your writing with other texts and then spits back a percentage reflecting how much information is gleaned from other sources. “Most students don’t understand that they can never get the number down to zero,” Boan emphasizes, “because your paper likely has direct quotations in it.” That’s OK, she notes, because most papers need direct quotes.

She also suggests consulting your instructors about what percentage of unoriginal material is acceptable, given the subject. “An English paper is probably going to have more direct quotations,” she adds, “than a business assignment.”

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