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How to avoid plagiarism

Good writing is authentic, trustworthy and relevant. A paper with little or no citations is hard to find published in a database that considers itself prestigious and ethical. Therefore, teachers’ talks about plagiarism are repetitive, but also very accurate: not giving credit to other’s ideas is not only bad for acquiring nice grades, but also prevents your paper from being published and it can even lead to legal sanctions. Believe it or not, plagiarism is a big deal!

When does plagiarism occur?

Plagiarism occurs when writers do not acknowledge an idea as found in a previous publication, or when a very general idea is thought not to have any original source. In these cases, the best we can do is to read and look for already published information. Usually, one can find ideas of public domain cited in many papers as part of their introduction or in theoretical frameworks. In other words, in academic writing, we need to be able to distinguish common sense from public domain ideas; the latter are usually generalities that writers need to cite.

How can we avoid plagiarism?

The easiest way of getting rid of plagiarism is to cite, either literally or paraphrasing. On one hand, literal citations will be necessary whenever you determine that no one can state that information in a better way! If no one can say it better, then use the original phrase from the author; that is to quote, but be sure to acknowledge the source in detail, including the author’s surname, year of publication and/or the page in which the quote appears. This information can be useful for your readers, in case they want to look for the original source and its content. Do not forget to signal the literal citation by means of quotation marks or indented paragraphs, according to the citation style you are required to use.

On the other hand, paraphrasing is explaining with your own words a piece of information you read in other sources. This style of quoting still demands a source, but it offers readers more flexibility in terms of wording. It is useful with very technical information, which authors may want to restate in order to get to wider audiences out of the area of expertise. It is also useful with complex ideas for which you can offer a simpler explanation. Still, if you are using somebody else’s ideas, you should acknowledge them!

A good way of avoiding plagiarism is revising your text twice before its delivery. Writing takes time, and you should organize your time in order to provide space for error correction. A common mistake is missing quotations. For example, when we mention an author once, but soon after we still talk about the author’s ideas, a frequent mistake is not to mention the name or the source again. Why is it necessary to acknowledge the source every time I make use of the information? Because not all your audience is aware of the works you are quoting. In other words, you should bear in mind that the only person aware of your paper’s sources is yourself! Giving proper credit whenever we use published knowledge is not only good for writing, but it is also part of the ethical considerations that every writer should embrace.

What can I do if I am running out of inspiration?

If you are running out of inspiration, taking somebody else’s words is never an option! Nowadays, there a multiple language tools that can help you either with synonyms or ideas to complete your paragraphs. WriteBetter is one of them, providing you with examples from published materials in order to help you build your text. It works in real time, while you are writing, and you can make use of this software through the language processor you already have in your computer, Word or GoogleDocs, for example. By introducing new words, the software will show you on the right side of the screen ideas with similar words and for similar contexts. It is a trustworthy tool, as it only displays materials from published sources like databases or academic magazines. Thus, you can combine your own thoughts with papers from other authors and get inspiration from them!

Finally, if you feel stuck in your process, a good idea is to stop writing and continue later. As we have said previously, writing takes time and writers should save time for error correction. Plan your writing by making an outline and revise your text before delivering. You can also combine literal quotations with paraphrasing, to make your text a varied one and interesting to read. As a last piece of advice, ask a friend or a teacher to read your document and give you honest opinions. Remember that there is always room for improvement when it comes to writing!