It is important to remember that college is stressful and difficult. Add on a few papers due each semester, and students are not sure where to put their efforts. Writing adds a lot of stress especially for students who struggle to learn how to cite sources and avoid plagiarism. In this essay, we will review three important habits to avoiding plagiarism and how students can set themselves up for future writing success. There are more habits and every student has a personalized way of studying and writing papers. Without getting into the finer details of citation styles, we will discuss the general principles behind plagiarism in college writing.
Let’s begin with the planning stages. Any writing project requires a bit of planning and thinking ahead. Students who don’t plan even small details don’t give their mind time to adjust and develop the paper topic. These students often write under the influence of products like 5 Hour Energy, Redbull, Monster, and a pot of coffee. Reading sources ahead of time and picking out good quotes and information is a great habit for students to use. Some students benefit from visual notetaking techniques such as with colored pens or highlighters – between your own words and words of others that need to be cited. Organization is different for every student, but developing a system to keep track of information and reading sources in advance of writing a draft is a great tool. It is highly recommended that students do not try to research, cite, write, and revise in one sitting. Break those stages up and avoid last minute writing panics!
One benefit to starting early is that students can use more resources along the way. Whether they use the college’s writing center or have a friend who is confident with academic writing, there are lots of resources available to students to help them cite sources and avoid plagiarism. One of those is the instructor in the course! Every instructor will have different preferences on the citation style you use in academic writing. Some instructors will look at draft but many only want to see the finished product. The common knowledge concept of what is widely known can vary based on the instructor and the topic being written about, so make sure to contact your instructor before deciding something is common knowledge and does not need a citation. But another rule is to not take chances. If you are unsure about whether or not to cite, it’s better to over-cite than under-cite. This doesn’t mean the instructor wants every sentence cited. Try to keep your own voice and ideas there as well. But remember that citations reassure readers that a source will back up the claim or information stated, so it never hurts to have one extra citation.
The final habit is the most important: understand and be able to define plagiarism before starting a research paper project. If a student cannot state it in their own words, it is time for a refresher. But that is why colleges have so many great resources available to students. You can watch videos on YouTube that demonstrate what is plagiarism or you can go to Writing Center on any college campus and discuss with someone knowledgeable. Let’s review a good definition of plagiarism: when you use ideas, facts, and opinions that are not your own – even when you don’t use the author’s exact words – you must give appropriate credit to the author as you incorporate his or her ideas into your paper. Students are not walking sponges, and they cannot remember every definition that every college instructor shoves down their throat. But there is nothing wrong with reviewing information and refreshing our memory of how to avoid plagiarism. As an English teacher, there are times where Google helps refresh my memory from something learned long ago. Instead of guessing, students should seek out resources and not take any chances of being wrong when it comes to plagiarism.
There are many other habits and ways to avoid plagiarism. But without diving into the specific MLA style or APA style and their varying rules, it’s important to plan ahead and not cram all of the research and writing into one day. It’s important to communicate with your instructor and ask questions. Every instructor will have different expectations, so students must adjust every semester and redefine what is expected from each new instructor. But lastly, students should make sure they understand plagiarism and refresh their memory as often as they need to. Even throughout the semester in ENG-122, I recommend students return to their readings about plagiarism when I find little bits of plagiarism in a paper draft. Students should use resources well, plan ahead of due dates, and make sure they can clearly define plagiarism. Most importantly, learn now how to plagiarize and never intentionally cheat on a writing assignment because you will probably get caught.