October 09, 2017

With increasing frequency, colleges and universities are making use of Web-based plagiarism checking services to scan papers for stolen material. And the consequences can be awful: at one end of the spectrum, a deteriorating grade for the assignment; at the other end, dismissal from an academic program. If you are intentionally plagiarizing in your paper, thesis, or dissertation, this should give you break in proceedings. But if you are not intentionally plagiarizing, there could still be reason for concern. Anti-Plagiarism software CheckForPlag catches an ever-growing amount of misappropriated material--and sometimes the student has not even meant to do anything erroneous! In what follows, we'd like to offer some simple tips for avoiding plagiarism of the unintentional variety.

1. Know what constitutes plagiarism. Simply put, plagiarism is the use of the words or ideas of another person without giving credit to the person from whom they are borrowed. Right off the bat, this tells us something important: you can't simply change a few words of a borrowed text (so that the passage is no longer a direct quotation) and think that you are in the clear. Unless the material is "common knowledge," a citation is needed for any material you borrow--whether it is a direction quotation, a paraphrase, or even just an idea.

2. Know what your lecturer will look for. Even before the advent of the computer, professors caught students who plagiarized; the Internet has just made it much, much easier. So what might give a clue to a professor that the material you've presented as your own really came from someone else?

  • Fluctuations in style
  • Terminology that isn't representative for you
  • Harsh connections between channels
  • Nonconformities in the point of view from which the text is plagiarized
  • Contradictions in the theories or situations maintained in the paper
  • The disappointment of the paper to address the specific theme assigned (signifying it may have been plagiarized)
  • The unavailability in your university/college library of the sources referenced in the paper
  • The use of exclusively Web-based sources
  • Diagnosing the material (Your professor is probably an expert in this field, after all!)
  • On its own, nothing on this list is anassurance that material has been plagiarized. However, the combination of several of these points will certainly raise uncertainties and will probably cause your professor to dig deeper.

3. Know how anti-plagiarism programs work. If your college, university, or professor is using a Web-based anti-plagiarism service, it's a good idea to know what the program searches for. If you're intentionally plagiarizing, chances are that you won't outwit these algorithms; if you're not intentionally plagiarizing, understanding the algorithms will help you to avoid plagiarizing inadvertently. Anti-plagiarism programs currently in use do a combination of the following:

  • Search databases of published journals, papers, thesis, dissertations, articles, and books, usually comparing your paper against millions of archived sources. This means that even print sources that have never been available on the Internet may turn up in the search.
  • Search millions of Conference Proceedings happened all over these years and billions of books as databases.
  • Compare documents. This allows professors and universities to submit multiple papers (even over a number of years) to compare them for material that they share in common.
  • Make internal comparisons. The more sophisticated programs use algorithms to examine sentence structure and synonyms, allowing them to catch even paraphrased material that has not been copied exactly.

4. Don't cut-and-paste. By definition, if you are doing this, you are borrowing material, and you're likely to leave evidences. NOTE that this rule applies even to borrowing your own material from papers you've written formerly. If you ignore this rule, then be sure to cite the source of whatever you've borrowed.

5. Don't paraphrase without citing the source. Yes, it's plagiarism even if you change the words. If it's someone else's idea, a citation is needed. Always.

6. If you use someone else's words, always use quotation marks (or block quote formatting). No exceptions.

7. Know your style sheet. Each academic style sheet has its own conventions for citing sources. If you don't follow the right conventions, you could inadvertently wind up being accused of stealing the material.

8. Be cautious of "common knowledge." This is the one big gray area--what certainly is "common knowledge"? If there's the slightest doubt in your mind, find the source and cite it. If you can't find the source, drop the material from your paper.

9. Get your work edited. Whether you rely on a professional editing service, a professor, someone from your college's writing center, they may catch what you missed, saving you a major hassle in the end.