5 Tips that Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

By Melody Pickle, Ph.D, KUWC Writing Specialist, WAC

Woman sitting at computer

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Learning to write in an academically acceptable research style is a complex writing task.  To complete this task student writers must step outside of their regular everyday communication style, which often involves first person story telling or first person reporting, and learn to incorporate the ideas of others into their own work. As student writers learn to produce the expected academic research style paper, they often make mistakes that can lead to plagiarism.  Here are key concepts that help writers avoid plagiarism and learning to write in a research style.

1. Unintentional and intentional Plagiarism matter.

Student writers not only need to understand that plagiarism is the theft of someone else’s words or ideas, but also they need to understand there are consequences for both intentional and unintentional plagiarism.  Reinforcing this idea can help students take plagiarism seriously and pay close attention to their writing as the proofread and revise.

2. Do not recycle or reuse work from previous courses.

Students are usually shocked to learn they cannot simply reuse their old work from previous classes or from other schools.  In their minds, since they own the work, they can use the work as they see fit.   In the KUWC workshops where we discuss this frequently, we discuss the elements of academic integrity involved in creating original work for each of their courses.  We often emphasize the important learning opportunity that is missed by not creating original work for the class.  At this point, students want to know if they can quote themselves using their own work.  In the KUWC, we use this question as an opportunity to explain the following: if they are not a published expert in the field, it does not benefit the paper to quote themselves.  At this time, we also explain reliable sources and the role of research in our academic writing.

3. APA is both a citation style and formatting method.

When students are first learning about APA, there are some key concepts that help students begin to understand the complexities of using APA as they write.

APA Format and Citation Style diagram

Understanding that APA influences both how the paper looks as well as how and where they cite their sources is the first step.  This may seem basic, but, oftentimes, the terminology we use confuses students.  For example, we may say, “Format your paper in APA style.”  This language does not clearly explain how APA should be used in a paper.

4. Paraphrasing means using all original words and syntax.

In the KUWC, as we review student papers, we find paraphrasing is one concept that is very difficult for students.  Even students who understand the concept really struggle with actually producing a proper paraphrase, especially one with proper citation.  One reason students struggle with paraphrasing is because their writing process looks like this: find the source, find a sentence they want to use from the source, and then try to paraphrase this sentence or paragraph.  This all happens within about 10 minutes.  Paraphrasing is a difficult task, but it is even more difficult when the writer has not spent time really understanding the source.  We will take up other frequent paraphrasing mistakes in a future blog post, so stay tuned for that one.

5. All sources should be cited both in the text and on the Reference list (with very few exceptions. The most common exception is citing personal communications.)  As students are learning APA, they are often shown many examples.  Students often latch on to one key citation idea, either in-text or Reference list citations.  Simply explaining this overarching concept really helps students conceptualize their responsibilities as writers as they learn to use citation.

Here are some KUWC Resources to assist with these concepts:

How do you explain plagiarism and citation concepts in your classes?


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