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Hints to Avoid Academic Misconduct

Plagiarism is one of the most common forms of academic misconduct.  Understanding how to paraphrase, quote and reference is a skill you will need for university. Here are some practical hints to avoid academic misconduct.

"Copy and Paste" plagiarism is exactly what it sounds like: anytime you take a sentence, image, or design from an original source (a website, a journal article, or someone else's paper) and paste it into your own assignment, you are guilty of bad scholarship. Copy and paste plagiarism is especially tempting when it comes to web sources or online journals.

Why should you retype a sentence or paragraph from a website if you know you're going to use it in your paper and when copying and pasting it is so much easier?

You should make a rule to never copy and paste text because:

  • It can become difficult to separate your text from the source text;
  • It's much harder to write a good paraphrase of a source if the source text is on the screen in front of you.

What's the difference between these two sentences?

  1. Toronto's new green bin program not only prevents waste from going to Michigan landfill sites, but also helps people become more aware of the type and amount of waste they create on a daily basis; this program encourages people to take responsibility for the garbage they produce.

  2. The new green bin program used in Toronto not only reduces the amount of garbage going to Michigan landfill sites, but also encourages citizens to become more aware of the waste they create on a regular basis; this program helps homeowners to take responsibility for the waste they produce.

The second passage is almost identical to the first. Sure, the author has changed certain words, trading garbage for waste and people for citizens, but the structure and the content of both passages are almost identical. If you want to paraphrase a passage, you must PUT IT IN YOUR OWN WORDS, which means more than simply changing a few words.

Try this:

  • To put something in your own words, read the passage and think about what it means. It may help you, to circle key words.
  • Make brief notes on a separate sheet of paper (think of it more like sketching the ideas than copying phrases-diagrams or symbols are helpful and don't lead to plagiarism).
  • Then, turn the paper over or minimize the window and think about how you would explain what you just read if you were talking to another person.
  • Take out a separate sheet of paper and write down the paraphrase, using your rough notes as necessary.

FYI - a good paraphrase of the example passage you just looked at might read like this:

The green bin program has two distinct benefits: composting waste locally means less waste is going across the border to Michigan, and sorting household garbage makes Torontonians more conscious of the waste they create (Author, 2005).

Also be careful to avoid the type of plagiarism that involves borrowing an author's style or ideas. If the author has said something particularly well or has used a unique style or structure, you should quote directly. A passage that contains rich or striking language or that you consider to be beautiful or extremely well written deserves to be quoted directly. If you feel the passage would lose something in paraphrasing, preserve the original put quotation marks around it and cite appropriately where the information came from.

Don't rely on someone else's ideas. You have good ones of your own! Especially if you are in first year and doing your first big research project, you might get the feeling that everything has been said before and that the people who said it before probably said it better than you ever could. This is simply not true: you are just entering the field, so the learning curve may be steep at first, but you have something to contribute to the discussions going on in your field. If you don't feel confident, talk to your professor or get help from the Student Life and Learning Support, opens in new window.

Here are some tips for how to avoid using other author’s ideas as a crutch:

  • Do some hard thinking BEFORE you consult sources. If you have some ideas written down before you begin, you won't run as much risk of borrowing heavily from other people's ideas.
  • Take careful research notes. Include a space to write down your own thoughts and questions as you go.
  • Update your research log on a regular basis.

If you are relying on other people's ideas, you need to tell your reader where those ideas came from. Whether you are presenting ideas that came from a paper you read during the course of your research or from a lecture you remember hearing in your first year Psychology class, as a scholar, you must follow up on those ideas and tell your reader a sense of where those ideas came from.

You will use sources in different ways in your paper. When you use a direct quotation, it means you have taken EXACTLY what the author said and put it into your paper. You must let your reader know that the material comes directly from another source by putting quotation marks around the passage. Be careful with the use of direct quotes and avoid the temptation to fill your paper with long stretches of direct quotations: these can really break up the flow of your ideas and it is unlikely to be a very good paper.

Use a direct quote when:

The author has said something particularly well (i.e. the passage would lose something if it were put into different words; the style is as important as the content), for example:

  • The original source contains a sentence or two that says exactly what you want to say;
  • You are quoting from a work of literature or an original historical document or the author is a famous person or a well-known authority on the subject.

Rather than using a direct quotation in your paper, you might consider paraphrasing. When you paraphrase, you put the author's ideas into your own words and use your own sentence structure. When you paraphrase, you must make sure you understand the original passage. The best thing about paraphrasing rather than quoting directly is that your paper won't be filled with long stretches of quotations. Rather, the source ideas you are using will be nicely integrated with your own thoughts.

Paraphrase when:

  • There is nothing striking or unique about the way the author has phrased the passage. If the passage is mundane, it's better to paraphrase it. Your words will do just fine.
  • The passage is really long and full of details that don't really apply to your paper. Think about why you're using the quotation and "trim" it, or simply put it into your own words.

You can avoid being suspected of cheating during a test/exam by:

  • shielding your work
  • not looking in the direction of other students' papers
  • refraining from communicating with other students
  • bringing only those aids or resources that have been permitted by your instructor
  • not bringing cellular phones, personal audio equipment, and other electronic devices
  • wearing layers and leaving all coats at the front of the room/coat check
  • putting all belongings into the provided clear plastic bag and place it under your seat
  • bringing your One Card student card/acceptable photo-identification
  • handing in all test/exam materials at the end of the test/exam