CBB / Academic Honesty / Tutorial

Question 3.

You are writing a research paper on the history of public education in the United States. You have cut and pasted a lot of information from articles you found on web sites and databases into a Word file on your computer. While writing your essay, you find yourself patching together pieces from different sources, and you have occasionally lost track of which ideas were your own and which were from various articles and websites. You consider going back to the original sources but the prospect is daunting. In any case, you figure that if your professor queries your sources, you can say that you didn’t intentionally plagiarize, and this will result in a lesser punishment.


As a general rule, unintentional plagiarism is still intellectual theft and bad note-taking skills are not a mitigating circumstance when punishment is meted out. Note the entries on our web log of well-publicized cases of famous authors whose poor note-taking skills led them to plagiarize. They have had to suffer public humiliation and severe blows to their professional reputations.

Here are some tips for avoiding unintentional plagiarism:

If you take notes on the computer rather than on paper, create a special folder for citation information. In fact, it would be a good idea to create a number of folders: one for your paper; another for sources, with individual files for each and every source; and another folder for the notes you take from each source. Maintain all the information for the bibliography as you go – it’ll save time and effort later.

When taking notes, identify your source. Put quotation marks around direct quotes and double check to make sure you’ve duplicated every punctuation mark. Avoid using the author’s language when paraphrasing or summarizing information – unless, of course, you quote verbatim from the original. Here’s a tip for keeping your ideas separate from those in your sources; you can either identify each idea as your own, that is, cite yourself, or put your ideas in a different font, case, or color on the screen. Another good idea is to print out your sources whenever possible, even when you have a file-version on your computer. Working from the paper sources will allow you to check quotations for accuracy.

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