Research is an important part of writing an essay, but there’s a thin line between using somebody’s ideas and ripping them off. Read on to make sure you’re always on the right side.
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is when you copy somebody else’s words or ideas. If you just copy sentences from a book or a website without saying where you got them from that’s plagiarism, and it’s the same if you do it with a friend’s essay. Schools, colleges and universities are all very strict about plagiarism, and anyone caught plagiarising could fail the assignment or even be kicked off their course.
Why is plagiarism wrong?
A big point of research and essay writing isn’t just finding facts and arguments – it’s thinking about them too. It might seem easier to plagiarise a passage from a book or download an essay from the internet now, but copying something down without knowing what it means won’t help you to develop important skills in the long run.
It’s easy to get found out as well. Teachers and lecturers aren’t daft, and they’ll be able to spot if certain sentences seem different to the rest of the essay. Plus, many now use special software which cross-references students’ essays with millions of books, websites, research papers and other essays in a database, which finds matching words and sentences in seconds.
How do I avoid plagiarism?
Avoiding plagiarism doesn’t mean you can’t use anybody else’s ideas – you just need to make clear where you found them. If you’re quoting something directly, make sure you put the words you’re using in quotation marks and add a note at the bottom of the page or at the end of the essay naming the original author and source. This is called referencing, and your teachers can advise you how to do it properly. You also need to reference statistics or graphs you use. Teachers can also tell you how to create a bibliography – which is a list of all the books, websites and other sources you used in your research.
It’s not always that simple however. Paraphrasing – which is where you use different words to express the same idea – can count as plagiarism too. You must always give credit to your original source, even if you’re not copying them word for word. You could use a phrase like ‘according to Dr. Smith in his 2011 paper Plagiarism Isn’t Clever’ before you write about the ideas.