You may think that advice on avoiding plagiarism doesn’t apply to you, because you’re not planning to buy an essay from the internet, or copy someone else’s work. But you may not be aware that it is possible to plagiarise unintentionally if:
- you’re not aware of the differences between referencing at university and any referencing you may have been used to doing previously;
- you haven’t been meticulous about keeping records of your reading;
- you don’t know how to use references in your academic writing to support your discussion and critical analysis.
It’s important to take referencing seriously and not just guess, or assume that you know how to do it. The consequences can be serious with marks deducted and even accusations of academic misconduct. See the Library guide about referencing for more information about why it is important to reference correctly.
The guidance below focuses on three important points to help you avoid unintentional plagiarism.
Know when to include a reference
Whenever you include an idea that you have gained from your reading in an assignment, you must ensure that you reference it correctly, both in the text and at the end in your reference list or bibliography. If you use the original words you have found in your reading, you must mark them with quotation marks, even if you only use part of the sentence. It is not enough to give the details of where the words came from; they must be marked out, or it will look as if you are claiming them as your own words. If you are writing the idea up in your own words, don’t be tempted to just change a few words. If you use quotations inadequately or paraphrase badly it will certainly be viewed as poor academic practice and may subject your work to penalties. They may even be seen as plagiarism.
This Study Advice guide explains more about using references in your work.
Develop good note-taking practices
Ever looked at your notes and thought, “I wonder where that came from?” or “I wonder if those are my words or copied from the text?” It’s frustrating when you can’t be sure – but it could cause you problems if you use the material without being able to reference it accurately. To avoid this, make it a habit to have good record-keeping practices. Always note the details of each text you use (author, title, year) when you start writing notes on it; add page numbers as you go along, even if you are not copying direct quotes; have a system of markers to indicate if something is a quote (put in quotation marks), an idea explained in your own words, or a query or new idea stemming from what you’re read (perhaps an asterisk *). The Study Advisers have a guide on Effective note-taking with more suggestions.
You might also consider using reference management software to keep details of your reading including all the bibliographic information. EndNote Web is a basic tool that works with Word to add citations to your written work and constructs a bibliography at the end. It is free too. If you have a large number of references to manage you might chose the more sophisticated Desktop EndNote. For advice on which version to use, and for self-paced training guides on EndNote, or book to come to a training workshop, see the Library’s web pages.
What should you do if you can’t find all the details of a reference?
If you have a quote but don’t know where it came from, try typing it into Google. You may find it’s better to use a short phrase rather than the whole quote; try to find a grouping of words that is less common. If you have some details of the text, you could try looking at your reading list or searching the Library catalogue. You can also look back through your Library account to see the titles of books you’ve borrowed. If you have the author and title of a journal article or even just the title of the journal and a date it may be possible to find the complete reference in one of the Library’s databases. What you must never do is invent details, or include things in your assignment if you cannot be sure about the source. This may lead to accusations of academic misconduct.
Need more help?
While this guidance will help you to understand how to avoid plagiarism, it can be confusing if you’re studying modules in different departments. You can also contact your Liaison Librarian or the Study Advice team to discuss this in person. Just remember to do it in plenty of time – the day your assignment is due to be submitted is not ideal!
This is one of a series of tips to help you save time and effort finding or using information.