Tools for Preventing Plagiarism

By Amy Sexton, Purdue University Global Center Tutor

One way that the Writing Center supports university students is by presenting live workshops each month on the important topic of plagiarism, and we strive to explore different perspectives on plagiarism with each offering.  Last month, I presented one of our most popular titles, Preventing Accidental Plagiarism.  This presentation offers students many helpful tools they can use throughout the writing process to prevent plagiarism in their assignments.

We begin the workshop with a look at Purdue University Global’s  official plagiarism definition, as well as some examples of plagiarism.  One example that seems to surprise some students is self-plagiarism, as many of them do not realize that one form of plagiarism is reusing a previously submitted paper for a new course.  After talking about what plagiarism is and what it may look like, we then turn our attention to strategies to prevent plagiarism.

Preventing plagiarism begins with careful research.  Students must take detailed notes during their research, including recording all bibliographic information needed to cite and reference their sources and properly noting any information that they record verbatim by enclosing it in quotation marks.  At this point in the workshop, I usually relate stories of working with students who waste precious time tracking down necessary bibliographical information because they did not record it during the research process or who unintentionally plagiarize because they forget that they recorded source material word for word in their notes and cite it as a paraphrase in their papers.  Finally, we know that students sometimes plagiarize because they have not thought through the topic enough to   form their own opinions and ideas, so we encourage students to use the research process to think critically about the topic, analyze what they are reading, and ask probing questions.

Next, we look at what effective paraphrases look like.  A common misconception among students is that paraphrasing means to take an original sentence and change it by finding synonyms to replace some of the words.  One effective way to unravel this misconception is to suggest to students that paraphrasing does not mean to “put something into your own words” but instead means to extract the meaning from the original text.  While this may not seem like a huge distinction, this change in defining paraphrasing does seem to make a difference in helping students understand the goal of paraphrasing.

In addition, students sometimes unintentionally commit plagiarism when they paraphrase an entire paragraph or more of source material.  This often occurs when beginning students are learning about a new or unfamiliar topic.  Many times, students erroneously think that adding a citation at the end of a paraphrased paragraph is sufficient.  This workshop offers a good opportunity to talk about this misconception with students and to introduce the concept of using both signal phrases and parenthetical citations to cite large passages of paraphrased material properly.

In the last part of this workshop, we look at what proper citation looks like including in the text and on the references list.  Specifically, we look at the differences between in-text citations for quotations and paraphrases and talk about why paraphrasing is often preferred over quotation.  Finally, we review a sure-fire strategy that all students can use to detect issues with plagiarism in their writing: matching in-text citations and references.  Sometimes, students may include a reference for a source they used on the references page but forget to include an in-text citation to show where they used the source material in their writing.  Ensuring that each in-text citation has a matching reference and vice versa can help students see where additional citation may be needed or discover that they overlooked including a reference on the references page.

By reviewing definitions and examples of plagiarism, careful research, effective paraphrasing, proper attribution of  all borrowed source material, and corresponding citations and references, students attending this workshop leave with a tool box full of useful strategies that they can use to proactively prevent plagiarism in their writing.


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