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How to avoid plagiarism in your essay writing

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By now you may have submitted dozens of assignments and the word plagiarism might not have even crossed your mind. But it’s really important that you understand what we mean by plagiarism and ways you can avoid it in your essay writing. 

What is plagiarism? 

Plagiarism means “presenting the ideas, work or words of other people without proper, clear and unambiguous acknowledgement”. This also includes ‘self-plagiarism’ which occurs where, for example, you submit work that you have presented for assessment on a previous occasion. 

Sometimes plagiarism involves deliberately stealing someone’s work and pretending it’s your own, but often it happens accidentally, through carelessness or forgetfulness. Either way, the University has a zero tolerance approach to plagiarism and cheating of any kind, and all submitted work is systematically and automatically checked for plagiarism. 

Our tips to avoid plagiarism

When you write an academic paper, you build upon the work of others and use various sources for information and evidence. To avoid plagiarism, you need to correctly incorporate these sources into your text.

Follow these five steps to ensure your essay writing is free from plagiarism:

Keep track of the sources you consult in your research
While you’re doing research and taking notes for your paper, make sure to record the source of each piece of information. One way that students commit plagiarism is by simply forgetting where an idea came from and unintentionally presenting it as their own.

You can easily avoid this pitfall by keeping your notes organized and compiling a list of citations as you go. Keep track of every source you consult – that includes not only books and journal articles, but also things like websites, magazine articles, and videos.

Then you can easily go back and check where you found a phrase, fact, or idea that you want to use in your paper.

Get your referencing right 
It goes without saying that proper referencing is the key to ensuring the credibility of your essay. Of course, you don’t need to reference things that are common knowledge (for example that Rome is in Italy) but any view you write about that’s not your own needs to be attributed to the place you got it from.

Be especially careful when paraphrasing – when re-writing passages of text in your own words, or compressing the original text. Paraphrasing is great as it illustrates you’ve understood the topic and blends academic voices in with your own writing. You’ll boost your marks this way too as again, it shows you’ve understood what you’re reading. But when paraphrasing, you do of course still need to reference properly, and in as much detail as you would for a direct quote.

For more help on referencing, check out the My Learning Essentials resources here.

Credit the original author in the correct style
Every time you quote or paraphrase, you must include an in-text citation (or footnote citation) that identifies the original author. It often also includes the publication year and a page number.

Each in-text citation must correspond to a full reference in the reference list or bibliography at the end of your paper. This details exactly where the information came from, allowing your readers to locate the source for themselves.

There are many different citation styles, and each one has its own rules for citing. Some of the most common include APA, MLA and Chicago Style. The most important thing is to apply one style consistently throughout the text, and if you don’t know which citation style you should be using it’s best to contact your tutor or school to find out. 

Understand the difference between ‘collaboration’ and ‘collusion’
If you’re working on a group assignment then it is assumed you will share ideas and collaborate, and the mark you receive will reflect this.

It’s often helpful to discuss things with your course mates. But if you’re working on an individual assessment and you copy ideas from a friend, this can be counted as a form of plagiarism called ‘collusion’ and often means you’ll both be penalised.

A good way to avoid ‘collusion’ is to stay away from reading your peers’ work in too much depth. It’s fine to have a bit of a debate or discuss problems with others doing your assessment, but keep asking yourself at all times – is your work original and does it reflect how you see the question you’re answering?

Don’t fall into the trap of essay mills and scams
In recent years universities have started to contend with “essay mills”, which appear to provide students with a shortcut to getting their work done. Essay mills cover a variety of online sites which offer to provide “plagiarism-free” essays for students – for a price. Not only are students committing fraud by passing off purchased essays as their own work, they’d be liable to significant penalties if caught. 

Look out for emails, social ads and websites trying to sell you these services, and avoid the trap of paying for work that is not your own. Not only could you face severe academic consequences when caught, but many of these websites are known to scam students into signing contracts to pay hundreds of pounds for their services. 

Further guidance:

For further help with academic support while working from home, visit the Student Support guide and check out My Learning Essentials for online tools and resources.

Please note these tips are only intended as a basic guide and you should always consult University policy, or your academic advisor if you’re unsure about plagiarism. You can find the guidelines on MyManchester under University Regulations.

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