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How to Avoid Plagiarism

A guide on avoiding plagiarism specifically designed with international students in mind but applicable to all students.

Improper Paraphrasing

Improper paraphrasing is a very common form of plagiarism. This occurs when one lifts a direct phrase from another work and changes just a few words - and then claims the work as wholly their own. Learning how to properly paraphrase is a very important component of good writing. But, remember, just because you have properly paraphrased does not mean that you do not need to cite the source of the original idea. Paraphrasing is simply a way of putting someone else's ideas into your own words - it does not make the idea your own.

Examples of Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is when you take an original idea from an author's work and reword, or rephrase, it so that the words are your own. It is important to remember that no matter how successful you are at paraphrasing, only the words are your own. When you paraphrase you must give credit through a citation for the author's original idea.

Original Phrase

"Western law begins with two major subgroups. One contains the legal systems of the European continent. Although there are many differences among European legal systems, they are all descended from the law of the Roman Empire and were influenced by the procedures of Medieval Roman Catholic canon law."

Dorothy H. Bracey, Exploring Law and Culture 31 (2006).

If you want to use this exact language in a paper, or any other work for a course, you must use quotation marks and provide a citation. If you want to use the idea, but not necessarily the author's words, you can paraphrase - but remember, you need to really need to explain the idea in your own words for it to be properly paraphrased; and don't forget the citation! 

Improper Paraphrasing

Western law has two major subgroups. One is the legal systems of Europe. There are differences between the European legal systems, but they are all descended from the Roman Empire and influenced by the procedures of the Medieval Roman Catholic law.

With or without a citation, the above phrase is plagiarism. Changing a few words and omitting others is not enough for proper paraphrasing. You must really understand what the phrase means and then put it in your own words. 

Proper Paraphrasing

At first glance, it can seem like the legal traditions of European countries are all very different. However, as part of one of the larger subgroups of Western law, European legal systems largely share a common origin in the Roman Empire and Medieval Roman Catholic Church law.

Dorothy H. Bracey, Exploring Law and Culture 31 (2006).

This is an example of proper paraphrasing (and citation). The original phrase has been reworded and the original idea is being attributed to the original author.

Help With Paraphrasing

If you feel like you need help with paraphrasing, there are some very good resources online. Purdue University has an online writing lab (the OWL) that offers tips on how to paraphrase as well as a quiz to see if you really understand how to paraphrase. This is an important skill to practice in order to avoid plagiarism. 

Checklist From the OWL

6 Steps to Effective Paraphrasing

  1. Reread the original passage until you understand its full meaning.
  2. Set the original aside, and write your paraphrase on a note card.
  3. Jot down a few words below your paraphrase to remind you later how you envision using this material. At the top of the note card, write a key word or phrase to indicate the subject of your paraphrase.
  4. Check your rendition with the original to make sure that your version accurately expresses all the essential information in a new form.
  5. Use quotation marks to identify any unique term or phraseology you have borrowed exactly from the source.
  6. Record the source (including the page) on your note card so that you can credit it easily if you decide to incorporate the material into your paper.

Taken from Purdue Online Writing Lab, Paraphrase: Write It in Your Own Words