On the first night of the Republican National Convention last week, Melania Trump, wife of the GOP nominee, gave a speech including portions of language lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. The controversy isn’t the first time that plagiarism has made political headlines. But repeating words that aren’t your own is a big issue for university students too. Here are five tips on how to avoid your own plagiarism scandal.
Melania Trump isn’t the first political figure to be accused of plagiarism. In 2003, then California Governor Gray Davis was charged with copying from Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union address. Senator Rand Paul, Russian President Vladimir Putin and even Vice President Joe Biden have been accused of copying the words of others at different times over the years.
In the digital age, plagiarism has become a major problem on university campuses, as students sometimes lift the words of others into their research papers and other academic work. Each year, students at the world’s top universities are expelled for stealing from the works of others. In some cases, alumni have even had their degrees revoked when it is determined that their theses were pirated.
“Plagiarism” comes from the Latin word plagiarius, which means “kidnapper.” Students need to quote and attribute referenced sources for most of their assignments. But when the reader is left to believe that the words are the author’s own, it is considered academic dishonesty and the penalties can be severe.
Five Tips to Avoid Plagiarism
Following are a few tips that can help students avoid falling into a Melania Trump-style scandal.
- Keep Notes of Where Facts and Quotes Come From
If you don’t keep track of where your info comes from, you can inadvertently plagiarize. Imagine going through online and print sources and writing down tidbits that you think could contribute to your term paper. That is what you should be doing, but you could easily forget to cite your sources, so make sure your notes make it clear where the information came from.
- Get Familiar with Citation Styles
There are a number of ways to cite your sources – Modern Language Association (MLA) style, American Psychological Association (APA) style and Chicago style are some of the most common. Some professors have a preference, while others leave it up to the student. But be sure to familiarize yourself with each of these formats so that you know how to cite in the text and in your works-cited section at the end of your paper. Not only is it good insurance against plagiarism accusations, but it also makes it more likely you will get a better grade.
Also, bone up on how to cite sources other than books and websites, such as movie, lectures, photos and even personal interviews. Not providing sources for any type of work can be considered plagiarism.
- Make Sure Your Paper Doesn’t Rely Too Much on Others’ Work
It is a great idea to quote someone (with attribution of course) when it strengthens your argument or provides further background to your topic. But you don’t want your paper to rely too much on what other people have said. While having multiple sources is best, if your paper reads like a copy and paste from others’ work, even if it is attributed correctly, it shows that you haven’t done very much study and negatively affect your grade.
- Be Aware of Self-Plagiarism
Isn’t self-plagiarism a contradiction in terms? A lot of students think so. However, copying the work you have submitted to other courses without identifying it as such can result in academic penalties. The reason is that educators want to see that students have put in the effort to study for each particular course rather than just writing something one time and reusing it again and again.
- Talk With Your Professor
Class assignments vary greatly and sometimes you need the advice of your professor to know for sure what is and isn’t allowed. Most professors are willing to meet with students to discuss term papers and other major assignments. They can’t write your paper for you, but they can make sure that you are on the right track.
The Academic Integrity Tutorial from the Cal State Fullerton Dean of Students provides additional tips on writing original works. Also check out the helpful and hilarious 36-minute academic integrity video, produced by Fullerton faculty. A notable rap song appears at the 13 ½-minute mark.