Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author

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Plagiarism in College:

Apr 13, 2013

How to Avoid Academic Dishonesty when Researching and Writing

During the process of locating and incorporating supporting material into your speech or paper, it’s important to practice good research skills to avoid intentional or unintentional plagiarism.

Plagiarism, as we have already learned, is the uncredited use of someone else’s words or ideas. It’s important to note that most colleges and universities have strict and detailed policies related to academic honesty. You should be familiar with your school’s policy and your instructor’s policy. At many schools, there are consequences for academic dishonesty whether it is intentional or unintentional. Although many schools try to make a learning opportunity out of an initial violation, multiple violations could lead to suspension or expulsion. At the class level, plagiarism may result in an automatic “F” for the assignment or the course.

Over my years of teaching, I have encountered more numerous cases of plagiarism. While it is not a large percentage in relation to the large number of students I have taught, I have noticed that the instances have steadily increased over the past few years. I don’t think this is because students are becoming more dishonest; I think it’s become easier to locate and copy information and easier to catch those who do.

I always remind my students that they do not have access to a secret version of the Internet that faculty can’t access. If it takes a student five seconds to find content to plagiarize online, it will take me the same amount of time. Software programs like Turnitin.com also aid instructors in detecting plagiarism.

Being organized and thorough in your research can help avoid a situation where you feel backed into a corner and fake some sources or leave out some citations because you’re out of time. One key to avoiding this type of situation is to keep good records as you research and write.

First, as you locate sources, always record all the key bibliographic information. I know from experience how frustrating it can be to try to locate a source after you’ve already worked it into your speech or paper, and you have the quote or paraphrase but can’t retrace your steps to find where you took it from. Printing the source, downloading the PDF, or copying and pasting the URL as soon as you locate the source can help you retrace your steps if needed.

Save drafts of your writing as you progress. Each day that I work on a writing project I go to the “File” menu, choose “Save As,” and amend the file name to include that day’s date. That way I have a record that shows my work.

The various style guides for writing also offer specific advice on how to cite sources and how to conduct research. You are probably familiar with MLA (Modern Language Association), used mostly in English and the humanities, and APA (American Psychological Association), which is used mostly in the social sciences. There’s also the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), used in history and also the style my book is in, and CBE (developed by the Council of Science Editors), which is used in biological and earth sciences. Since each manual is geared toward a different academic area, it’s a good source for specific research-related questions.

When in doubt about how to conduct or cite research, you can also ask your instructor for guidance.

Questions to Consider:

  • 1. Why do you think instances of academic dishonesty have been steadily increasing over the past few years?
  • 2. What is your school’s policy in academic honesty? What is your instructor’s policy? What are the potential consequences for violating this policy at the school and classroom levels?
  • 3. Based on what you learned here, what are some strategies you can employ to make your research process more organized?