When you are writing a school paper, a business document or a research paper, you are responsible for your original ideas. When referencing works or ideas by other authors, a citation is needed. Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate your own ideas and the ideas of others. What is the correct way to integrate sources in your writing? If you slightly modify an original quote, is it necessary to cite the author? There is much confusion when it comes to questions such as these, and that confusion can sometimes lead to plagiarism. To avoid this, here is a handy checklist:
Speak to tour instructor
If you find yourself questioning something in your paper regarding possible plagiarism, feel free to speak openly to your instructor about it. They will surely be happy to help clarify any confusion. If you are enrolled in a course or a class, there are often guidelines for citing sources that you can consult.
Planning your document is the first and most essential step you can take towards avoiding plagiarism. If you wish to use outside sources of information, you should plan exactly how you will go about it. This means finding a balance between these external sources and your own ideas and writing an outline in order to create the architectural blueprints of how you are going to structure your ideas (this is where bullet points come in handy). This will help establish clear boundaries between your thoughts and those of outside sources.
Luckily, in today’s technology-laden landscape, there are many online tools to help you detect and correct plagiarism. You can use a free plagiarism checker that will detect any traces of plagiarism. Although one must be careful with paraphrasing, since a plagiarism detector might give you the green light, yet without citing a source it can also be considered plagiarism (which we will discuss later on).
To cite or not to cite?
Needless to say, you want to be credited for your ideas. So, to differentiate your ideas from outside sources, you should always cite whenever the idea or point is not yours. This way, when there are no citations, it will be clear to the reader that the material is original. You should apply the same scrutiny to direct quotes, data citation, etc.
Make it crystal clear
Sometimes, even if a citation is given, vagueness in phrasing can disguise the real source of an idea, causing accidental plagiarism. One way to avoid ambiguity is to carefully monitor confusing pronouns. If you are discussing the ideas of multiple people, make sure the reader can tell who “he” or “she” is in a sentence. When, for example, you are citing Game of Thrones’ director Alan Taylor discussing author George R.R. Martin’s opinion on Tolkien, make sure it is clear who everyone is, and that you are crediting the right person!
A paraphrase is when you describe someone else’s ideas in your own words. If you simply change a few words of the original sentence, this does not make it so that you avoid plagiarism. To paraphrase properly, you must change the words, as well as the sentence structure, while keeping the content intact. Remember that even when you are paraphrasing, a citation is necessary to give credit to the original author. It is worth noting that paraphrasing does not serve the purpose of making it seem that you are drawing less directly from outside sources or of reducing the number of quotes in your document. This is a misconception (mostly among students) that stems from the wrong belief that one should hide the fact that the writer relies on outside sources. It is actually the contrary. Showing that others support your ideas by citing similarities only fortifies your own ideas. Good paraphrasing should fit smoothly into your writing, emphasizing only the most relevant ideas and cutting out anything unrelated.
Weight your sources
Not all sources are created equal. In fact, the internet is laden with information that is simply wrong. So how can you separate good ones from bad ones? There are a few indicating factors: the quality of writing, how well the argument is crafted, the authority of the platform where the source is published, etc. What’s equally important is knowing exactly who the author of the document/paper is and when it was written. This will be important when citing the work.