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What counts, what it costs, and how to avoid it.

Best Practices

Use Your Short-Term Memory

As you're taking notes, try to summarize what the source is saying without looking at it. This should help you paraphrase a little more effectively. (If you've got a very sharp memory, though, you might need a different strategy, or at least wait a few minutes after reading before trying to create your version.)

Try to bundle multiple sentences into your version rather than going one sentence at a time.

Keep in mind, a good paraphrase is more than synonym-swapping! See examples.

Do Your Citations First

Once you've got a hunch that you'll be using a source, go ahead and create the citation for it.

As you take notes or start integrating information into your paper, you'll be able to add the in-text citation as you go.

If you write your whole paper, then add citations after you're finished, you're making yourself practically redo your research to figure out what came from where... and you raise your risk of accidentally plagiarizing something by overlooking it!

Remember, parenthetical citations reflect the full citation -- or at least, the very first part of it! Usually that's the author(s) name(s), but if a source doesn't have an author, you'll use the first few words of the article title. Each citation guide has a page of examples for in-text citations as well as the full citations.

Take Very Good Notes

Make sure you know which information came from which source. Some suggestions:

  • Keep a document for all your research notes (for example). Plug in your quotes or notes under the citation for the source they came from. Don't forget to note page numbers as needed, too! You might go ahead and write the parenthetical citation with each note.
  • Write your notes on index cards: notes or quotes on one side, citation on the back. (Benefit: you can shuffle the cards around to start organizing your information without losing track of the citation info.)

As you get a feel for your topic and what you're going to say in your paper (that is, what your thesis/argument will be, and what major points of evidence you want to bring up), start building an outline so you can figure out the flow.

You can drop sources and/or quotes into it, as well, so you can see where you've used a source and where you might still need to do some more research.

Quote Marks Scream "Cite Me!"

As you check over your paper -- you're not turning it in at the actual last minute, right? -- look for spots you have quotation marks without any citation information close by. Paraphrased information needs citations, too, of course, but "quote marks" stand out from the text a bit more obviously as potentially suspicious.

Paraphrase A Lot

Generally speaking*, paraphrasing is preferred over direct quoting. When you paraphrase correctly, there's a lot more room for your original ideas to come through, and your cited content can be shaped to fit into your argument more easily.

When you're quoting, keep it minimal -- just the most significant pieces that you absolutely cannot or should not reword because they'd lose their impact. You should always "pad" your quote with original phrasing to either introduce it and/or to trail off from the quoted piece. Another good rule of thumb is to include a sentence of explanation for each quote you use to unpack it a bit: don't just restate what the quote said (we already read the quote...) but to connect it to your argument.



*If you're analyzing a work of literature for English class, for instance, you'd want to use lots of direct quotes from the book. Less so for the secondary sources you're using to supplement your analysis, though, and your quotes should still follow the above advice on minimalism.

Original Text from Source:

A much larger analogue of the asteroid belt, the Kuiper Belt is a cosmic junkyard, full of rubble thought to be left over from the formation of the solar system. But whereas the asteroid belt is made mostly of rock and metal, objects in the Kuiper Belt are composed largely of frozen water, ammonia and methane.

"A much larger analogue of the asteroid belt, the Kuiper Belt is a cosmic junkyard, full of rubble thought to be left over from the formation of the solar system. But whereas the asteroid belt is made mostly of rock and metal, objects in the Kuiper Belt are composed largely of frozen water, ammonia and methane" ("Two Years On").

The Break-down:

  • Too long of a quote for a 4-page paper
  • Doesn't use any original content to introduce the quote or finish up the thought

The Kuiper Belt consists of icy chunks of frozen water, ammonia, and methane believed to be "leftover from the formation of the solar system," much like the rocky field of the asteroid belt ("Two Years On").

The Break-down:

  • Only directly quotes what is needed
  • Original content introduces the quote

Though both the asteroid belt and Kuiper belt are believed to be remnants of the solar system's formation, the Kuiper belt consists mostly of ice rather than rock, including frozen methane and ammonia as well as water ("Two Years On").

The Break-down:

  • The source material is almost completely re-written
  • This would much more easily fit into the organization of my paper.

A bigger version of the asteroid belt, the Kuiper Belt is a cosmic junkyard, full of rubble believed to be left over from the formation of the solar system. But while the asteroid belt is made mostly of rock and metal, objects in the Kuiper Belt are composed largely of frozen water, ammonia and methane ("Two Years On").

The Break-down:

  • Even with a citation, there are no quotation marks around the words repeated verbatim. Plagiarism!
  • A few words have been swapped out for synonyms but this does not actually introduce originality. E.g. "larger analogue" vs "bigger version": this is the same phrasing delivered the same way. It might as well be a quote.
  • What if we swapped out even more words, so nothing is verbatim anymore? See point 2: you've basically got a new haircolor but the same hairstyle. (That's bad.)

Citations Wanted

Just like a paper, your presentations need to cite sources -- both in a Works Cited/References/Bibliography list at the end as well as "in-text" citations on the slides!

There's not an MLA or APA "format" for presentations: you can use whatever fonts make sense and so forth. Just be sure to still thoroughly document your sources, and that documentation is what will follow a style guide.

Samples Are Small

Again, the whole point of anything you're doing is to show your thinking, your ideas, your understanding of a topic. Focus on you as the presenter. If you have a 10 minute presentation, most likely you shouldn't play the entirety of a 5-minute video from YouTube.

Those Images Are Borrowed, Too

Plan on giving credit for your visuals, as well.

Good news, though! Presentations are aesthetics-centric in a way written essays are not, and the style guides don't really care how you put slides together. In the professional world, at least, an informal credit is often enough (e.g. in a small hyperlinked caption: Photo by user via Flickr). Double-check to make sure your instructors agree with that, however.

Arguably, that's better for more decorative images, too. If you're pulling in a chart or some other kind of information-packed visual, a more formal citation is probably better.

Read Those Notes

A common scenario: "Yay, I got a good grade! No need to read the feedback; I'm awesome."

Also: "Ugh, I got a ***** bad grade on this stupid assignment. I don't want to think about it."

Both completely understandable reactions will lead you astray.

Everyone always has room to improve. (Heck, we're going to keep coming back and tweaking this page, and we're pros.) Maybe you actually don't understand semicolons but it wasn't important enough to dock you any points... but wouldn't you like to know that was an issue so you aren't doing it wrong in the future? Likewise, if you scored badly, there's obviously some important things you haven't nailed down yet that you need to understand.

Where's the plagiarism connection?

As we mentioned on the Myths page, most plagiarism is unintentional, caused by carelessness or ignorance. You're not going to flunk because you missed something on one assignment... but if you start a pattern of missing citations and your prof knows they told you before to fix something... well, that's something else. If you knew you were doing it, you wouldn't. So read that feedback when you get assignments back so you can know what you don't know!