Avoiding Accidental Plagiarism
With so many assignments to do each semester, it’s easy for all those resources to get into a funky mess if you don't keep them in check. Academic misconduct is the last thing you want to have marked against your name at the end of your degree, so how do you avoid accidental plagiarism and manage your resource efficiently?
One of the worst things about doing an assignment is getting to the end rushing to footnote, only to realise that you’ve now forgotten where many of the quotes and ideas came from. When you start an assignment, work out how you will keep your resources and references organised. I'm a big fan of EndNote or any referencing software. Reference software seems like a hassle when you first start to use it, but in the long run it saves you time and reduces your errors.
Regardless of whether you use software or have another method, here are three steps that can help you to keep track of all those resources…
1. When you take literally anything – a quote, an idea, a graphic, a concept – from a source, note it down clearly!
If I can get a digital version of a source, I put a number as the first character in the file name. Then all I do when taking notes from my sources is jot down: file ‘1_p2_par2’ next to the quote or idea I have taken from it. That way, if I ever need to re-check the original material, I know exactly where to find it. Find a system that works for you and stick to it.
2. When you use a source, immediately add it to EndNote or the referencing software you have chosen. No ifs or buts; do the referencing for the source right now. If you’re not using referencing software, you could instead type the footnotes for your sources into a Word document.
The beautiful thing about digital referencing software is it does all the management work for you, and once you have a source in your digital library, you never have to type it out again. Plus, it formats it for you! Install it and BAM! That most irritating aspect of dealing with your resources is now reduced to you filling out boxes for ‘author’, ‘page’, ‘date’, etc. Spot a typo? That’s okay. You can fix it up and the software will universally update your documents with the correct spelling. This is how you save time and reduce errors in your footnotes and bibliography. Remember that an incorrect footnote technically means you’re not citing the source you took your idea from, and not citing a source is plagiarism.
3. If you followed the other steps (especially with referencing software), insert your footnotes as you go. If you’ve typed out your footnotes in a Word document, simply copy-paste the pre-prepared footnote into your assignment and add a reference for page or paragraph numbers.
If you follow these simple steps, managing your resources for assignments becomes a breeze, and lets you focus on what you are writing and not the space in the bottom margin of your page.
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