By now, most students understand that they need to paraphrase text that they don’t quote and correctly cite their sources. The question that students often have is not “What do I need to do?” but “How do I do it?”
This uncertainty can cause many students to make simple mistakes that can cause them to miss citations in their work, paraphrase poorly or even be accused of outright plagiarism.
One of the biggest mistakes is not making citation part of the writing process. Every draft a work goes through should have proper citations, if for no other reason than it’s the easiest and most reliable way to make sure they are all included.
Unfortunately, many students don’t choose to write their papers this way; instead, they use a mashup of original content, copied material, and outside data to try and construct a paper. Through this method, citations are often lost, paraphrasing is often incomplete, and the quality of the writing suffers in general.
However, the good news is that fixing this is as easy as adjusting the writing process and taking advantage of the tools students already have.
For many students, paraphrasing is about trying to “change” an existing text so that it is somehow “different enough” to be considered original. However, paraphrasing is supposed to be about putting the information and ideas you’ve learned into your words, not a modified version of someone else’s.
The easiest way to do this is to thoroughly read the information that you want to include and then put it away. Close the book, go to a different tab in your browser--whatever it takes to get it away from your eyes.
From there, in your word processor, simply explain what you read in your own words. If it helps, pretend that you’re writing a (formal) letter to your instructor or to someone else you know and are trying to share this information with them.
It’s important to note that this word processor document should not contain any of your notes. If you wish to use a word processor file to store notes, it should be separate from the one in which you write your paper.
The main thing is that all of the words you put on the page come from your keyboard. Though you have to be careful to ensure that you aren’t repeating what you read, as a general rule, what comes from your fingertips is your writing.
Any text that you copy and paste should be immediately placed in quotes and left unchanged. Attempting to alter the existing text to turn it into a paraphrase is not only a form of plagiarism but significantly more work than just paraphrasing properly.
Adding Citations and Bibliography
If you are paraphrasing your work correctly and writing your paper in a relatively linear fashion, then citations are also fairly easy, especially if you take advantage of the technology you have at your disposal.
Microsoft Word, for example, has an entire references tab dedicated to making it simply to add citations in your paper.
When you are done adding the information from the work, simply switch to that tab and select the style of citations that you want. From there, click “Insert Citations” and add the source into your bibliography. Word will provide you with an easy guide for inputting the relevant data.
After that, all you have to do is make sure that the source is selected in the citations sidebar and either select “Insert Citation” if your class uses in-text citations or “insert footnote” if it uses footnotes. Word will insert the citation and format it correctly for you.
When you’re done with the paper, all you need to do is hit the “Bibliography” button and choose the format you want. While Word will keep track of your citations and update your footnotes accordingly, make sure to select your bibliography, press the down arrow and update citations if you add sources after dropping it in.
Google Docs has a similar, but more limited function called the Explore Panel. Located under “Tools,” it opens a sidebar that allows you easily bring in citations and footnotes. The easiest way is to search for the page you want to reference, click the “Web” tab and then click the quote marks to drop in the in-text citation and to add the footnote. You can also change the format of the citation by clicking the three-dot menu in the results panel.
Similar to Word, it will also keep track of your citations and renumber and rearrange as them as needed.
However, Explore does not work with books, journals, or other physical works and it also can’t produce a bibliography. As such, you may need to either manually copy your footnotes into a bibliography or use a Google Docs addon if you need more robust citation management.
The key, however, is to take these steps as you write. When you finish paraphrasing information you learned from a source or after you drop a new quote in, add the citations immediately. Later may be too late.
Too many students make the mistake of ignoring this step on their first draft only to realize that it’s much more difficult to do it later. Often times, it’s the result of procrastination, skipping on work in the early part of a project with the intent of doing it later.
However, with paraphrasing and citation, that’s simply not practical. Not only is it easy to lose or forget what needs to be cited, but you may not be able to locate the same sources days or weeks later.
In short, the best time to cite sources is as you write and as you use them. Waiting until later just invites errors and makes for more difficult work down the road.
In the end, citing as you write is fairly straightforward. Paraphrase by writing your own words, drop in your citation cite after you’ve used the particular source or section thereof, and always immediately quote any text that you copy and paste.
While this may mean your first draft will take longer to write, it will also make your later drafts take much less time and ensure that your citations are complete.
When your work is all said and done, you should have no doubt about whether or not it contains any plagiarized passages. There should be no surprises waiting for you in a Similarity report. You should know it’s original because you wrote it and you will know exactly what is copied because it will be quoted and cited.
If you do that, you’ll be able to submit your work with confidence and never worry about being accused of plagiarism again.
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