When you write a college paper, you commonly present your view of some topic your instructor has assigned. When you use words, facts, or images from another creator – whether that information comes from a scholarly article, a newspaper article, a website or any other writing – you show your instructor how you can weave in your ideas and support them with information from another person. Your ability to synthesize information also demonstrates that you can master scholarly writing and create a unique paper.

Defining Plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism is often a problem with college students’ written assignments. A common student mistake is to take words or facts from a reference source and not show any kind of link to that source. For instance, this type of plagiarism could be a sentence in quotation marks that is important to the topic that paper addresses, but has no proper citation. 

Students’ papers may also be missing a title page or a reference page. Similarly, there may also be text that requires inline citations from references. If this information is missing, that is considered plagiarism.

There are also those students who purchase a paper from an online source and just add their name to it. That is a clear example of plagiarism.

But teachers have access to tools like Turnitin to easily track the source of a purchased paper. Also, the universities keep copies of those papers to easily compare similar topics to see if a paper was once submitted by another student.

Unless you’re asked to write a paper about your personal viewpoint, most likely you will not be plagiarizing. But if you quote some phrase that your mom, dad or favorite uncle from WWII used to say in a paper, you should look up that statement and properly cite its source. It will need both an inline citation and reference listing.

Most college papers written by students are based on research for the paper’s main topic and require evidence to support that topic. However, an instructor reading the student’s paper is concerned with the student’s ability to present some original thinking about a problem or claim, using solid evidence to back up those thoughts. Those types of research papers will have at least one or more references.

If any reference is missing, then the student may be accused of plagiarism and receive a lower grade on the paper. Even one sentence or fact presented in any college paper without a proper citation is considered plagiarism.

Checking Your Work for Proper Citations

Student papers often read as if they were written and not carefully checked before they are submitted to the professor for grading. Failing to recheck what you’ve written is a common problem. Ideally, you should re-read your paper at least once, looking for errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar punctuation, as well as those missing citations. 

It is often difficult to read words from multiple sources and then paraphrase what you read into your own words. Ideally, you should be able to differentiate the statements that are your own viewpoint versus material that came from another source.

Similarly, reading an article and writing a summary of what that author presented is difficult. Are there keywords in your paper that were in that source? If so, then go back into your paper and provide the correct citation.

Paraphrasing is common in writing a college paper. However, if you have read a book and paraphrase some key parts of it, you need to cite your source in an inline citation and add the book to the reference list at the end of your paper.

Why Are Citations Necessary?

Why do you need to have citations? First, using a citation for each reference source shows the reader who actually owned those words that you borrowed from another writer.

Second, a citation provides your reader with the ability to go to that source and find what you borrowed. Your reader may want to know more about the information used to make a point in your paper.

There are many types of citations. Interviewing a person, for instance, is one of those occasions where a citation is needed as well as a reference listing.

There are different types of citation styles, such as American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA) and Chicago. As a student, you will discover in that the type of citation style varies depending upon your major. Be mindful of the syllabus instructions for each course so that you know what citation style to use for any papers you write for a class.

Penalties for Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a form of stealing, and it can come with some harsh penalties. Your reputation can be permanently tarnished, and you’ll demonstrate that you lack ethics. In some cases, people have lost their jobs.

Good Writing Demonstrates Your Ability to Solve Problems

Scholarly writing is also a demonstration of your ability to solve a problem assigned to you from a teacher. You will have to do some reading to find a number of references that help define the problem better or provide a solution to the problem.

Often, a written assignment in your class will involve a case study of people who are facing a situation or a problem. The point of assigning a case study as a writing assignment is to determine if you can identify the problems and pose a set of solutions.

Remember that a scholarly paper is a demonstration of the creative blending of your ideas and the ideas of another person into a new story. Each of us will approach such a task differently and use a unique viewpoint.

Your age, your education, your work experience, your geographic location and many other factors help to influence and differentiate your writing from papers written by other students. For a class assignment, all of these different views of a case study create a wonderful and enjoyable reading experience for your professor. If you cite your sources properly, most likely you’ll even enjoy a better grade on that paper.

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