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Citing Sources: Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

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Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

1. Understand your assignment. Discuss any concerns with your instructor.

Make sure you're clear on exactly what your instructor expects. Talk to him or her about any guidelines you don't understand.  Remember, your instructor wants to see you succeed! If you have questions or concerns, discuss it with them early. Maintaining good communication with your instructors throughout the semester can be one of your best resources!

2. Don't wait to get started, and break your assignment into smaller steps.

Wait too long to begin an assignment, and it may soon become overwhelming to you. You may not realize how much time it takes to formulate a topic, gather and read research on that topic, and write about it in a properly formatted paper. Note the assignment deadline and set intermediate deadlines for yourself for each step in completing your project. Tackling a paper in sections of two or three pages each doesn't just sound easier than writing a 15-page paper, it is easier. Your assignment's guidelines may differ, so check them carefully, but most research papers can be broken into the following steps:

    • Choose your topic, and narrow it down to a research question or thesis statement. For example, "poverty" is far too broad a topic to tackle effectively in a student research paper. "Effects of poverty on academic achievement" or "Does aid from richer countries ultimately help or hinder poor countries' development?" are better formulated topics for research. You may have to do some reading about your topic before you can decide how you want to narrow your focus. For more information, see Define Your Topic.

    • Gather and read resources on your topic. You will likely need a source for general information or background information on your topic, such as a book or reference source, in addition to current research that addresses your topic more directly (usually from journals or magazines). Librarians can help you find both of these types of sources. See other library Research Guides by topic for help beginning research.

    • Start writing your paper in sections. Introduce your topic to the reader (introduction), discuss and incorporate research to support your thesis statement (body of the paper), and present your conclusions (conclusion). Don't forget that you must also list all the sources you consulted on a "References" or "Works Cited" page, which can be time consuming to assemble and format properly.

3. Document each of these steps and your sources well as you go along. Paraphrase properly.

Avoid plagiarizing an author's work accidentally by carefully documenting every source you have read. Remember that you must cite each source, that is, give the author(s) credit, in the text of your paper as each of their ideas is discussed. Keep printouts of articles and/or a photocopy of a book's title and copyright pages (or write down all the publication information) so that you have everything needed for a complete citation. If you quote a source directly, make sure to include the page number(s). If you paraphrase your source, you must cite the source, but your paraphrased passage must also be sufficiently distinct from the original while conveying its meaning accurately. More about paraphrasing here.

4. Understand the required citation style and how to use it.

A citation style is a set of formatting guidelines for both your in-text citations and full citations on your reference/works cited list. A citation style may also determine the technical aspects of your paper, such as margin width, font size, and page number placement. This guide was created to help you understand and follow the two most common citation styles: APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). You can find these guidelines and example citations to follow under the "Citing Sources" tab for each style above.

5. Get help with writing and citing!

No student need feel as though he or she can't get by in college without cheating or plagiarizing. If you do not understand how to complete your assignment correctly, ask for help! Remember, this is a learning process, and there are many resources available to help you along the way.

    • Visit the Center for Academic Enhancement (CAE). The Center for Academic Enhancement provides free peer and professional tutoring, writing help such as proofreading and editing, and even helpful workshops and advice in areas such as time management and study skills. Never let the scope of an assignment overwhelm or panic you. Let the CAE help you instead!

  • Ask a librarian for research assistance. If you are not sure where to begin (or even if you think it's too late!), the reference librarians can help you find appropriate resources for your assignment, help evaluate the resources you may already have, and show you how to cite sources in your paper properly. Email us or visit us at the reference desk during any open library hours.
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