So, where do students go wrong and how can you avoid accidentally plagiarising sources? Thinking carefully about your work, what skills you have and what areas you need to improve upon will help you identify where your weaknesses are.
Students sometimes plagiarise when they feel under pressure. Having several assignments due at once and failing to plan work adequately can lead to poor note-taking and the copying and pasting of other people's work, as well as other bad essay practices. Planning out all your work several weeks in advance and working steadily, rather than putting it off as long as possible and then rushing, will help avoid stress and its potential pitfalls.
If time management is a problem for you, there are several useful websites that will help you improve in this areas:
Work through the Academic Integrity Tutorial which describes collusion and other forms of misconduct in more detail.
Making notes isn't just about jotting something down from your reading so that you can use it later. It is an important part of planning and thinking about your assignments. Students often go wrong with plagiarism because they copy something directly from a book into their notes and then forget that it is not in their own words. Copying out text word-for-word won’t help you gain anything from your reading. Your lecturers want to know that you can understand what you have read so you need to ensure that you put things in your own words. Doing this at the note-taking stage will ensure that you don't accidentally plagiarise while writing your essay. It's also a good idea to keep your notes: you may need to prove how you wrote your essay later on.
It is very important that you always use your own words to express your argument, even if the idea has come from a book or journal. This will show your lecturers that you understand what you have read. Remember, referencing the source of the information in a footnote or in-text citation is not enough on its own to indicate that you are using someone else's words. You should either quote directly (using quotation marks) or better yet, paraphrase or summarise the individual source, or synthesise the information from several complementary sources together.
If you are unsure about your skills in this area, you might find the Academic Skills Tutorials on Yorkshare VLE useful. You may also wish to make use of Turnitin, a text-matching software program that can show you whether you are using your own words often enough. You will need to attend a one-hour workshop, which may be offered to you by your department as part of your degree programme. If not, there are also lunchtime workshops to which you can sign up through the Yorkshare VLE.
When you write your essays, you are taking part in an academic debate about your subject. As part of this, you will use and build upon the ideas of other people, evaluating and critiquing them. It is important that you acknowledge other people's work by referencing them appropriately. This shows respect to other scholars in your field and it also provides evidence to back up the arguments that you are making in your own work. Each department at the University of York follows a particular referencing style and referencing guides for each one are available on this website. You should reference all your sources for people's ideas, including websites, lecture notes and personal communications just as scrupulously as you would books and journals.
However, you do not need to reference common knowledge: commonly known facts, available from multiple sources (e.g. encyclopaedias and textbooks) and which are not in dispute, constitute common knowledge and do not need a citation. For example:
Common knowledge can’t be interpreted differently by various people and viewpoints. However, if you’re not sure you can ask or simply include a citation to be on the safe side.