The Easiest Way to Avoid Plagiarism
As you can tell from this post’s title, this week, I want to share with you the easiest way to avoid plagiarism in your writing. Here it is:
Don’t copy and paste. Ever. (Click to tweet)
“That’s your advice?” You might be thinking. “I learned that in [insert childhood school grade here.]”
Yes, that’s my advice. I’m not talking about obviously and intentionally cheating by copying an entire paper off the internet and passing it off as your own, though. What I’m talking about is a poor note-taking and writing practice that can result in committing accidental plagiarism.
|These babies are cute, but copied and pasted text in your paper is not.|
Why Copying and Pasting is a Bad Idea
I say that never copying and pasting is the best way to avoid plagiarism because copying and pasting is perhaps the easiest way to plagiarize, both intentionally and unintentionally. With practically infinite online resources a mouse click away, taking notes from sources is simpler than it used to be, and it’s tempting to copy and paste text from a source into your notes or paper and think, I just want to save this information for now—I’ll paraphrase it later. You might copy and paste a paragraph, or a sentence, or even a phrase. This practice is dangerous. I’ve often heard students say about copied and pasted (in other words, plagiarized) text in their papers, “Oh, shoot, I meant to go back later and paraphrase that,” and “Oh…I thought those were my words. I forgot they came from someone else,” and “But I cited my source. I thought that was enough.” Sound familiar?
Paraphrase As You Go
Many writers want to complete their research and note-taking before beginning to write. Writing should be a part of the note-taking process, however. Paraphrasing as you go, meaning as you take notes or as you start to write your paper (if you’re not a note-taker), is one of the best methods of ensuring that you're using your own words and voice and that you’re not accidentally representing someone else’s carefully crafted text as your own. If you cite as you go (which I also strongly recommend), you’ll be in a really good position to avoid plagiarism.
Through reviewing papers in physical courses, online courses, and Walden's Writing Center, I've seen countless times how copying and pasting can easily lead to a paper that not only contains plagiarism but that also doesn’t present critical thinking or the writer’s voice clearly. If you follow this one simple rule of never copying and pasting, I am confident that you will strengthen your writing. Try paraphrasing as you go with your next paper or discussion post, and check out our effective strategies for additional help.
If you have other tips or questions, share them in the comments!
Anne Shiell is a writing instructor and the coordinator of social media resources for the Writing Center. Anne also produces WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.
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