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Safe Practices


There are few intellectual offenses more serious than plagiarism in academic and professional contexts. This resource offers advice on how to avoid plagiarism in your work.

Most students, of course, don't intend to plagiarize. In fact, most realize that citing sources actually builds their credibility for an audience and even helps writers to better grasp information relevant to a topic or course of study. Mistakes in citation and crediting can still happen, so here are certain practices that can help you not only avoid plagiarism, but even improve the efficiency and organization of your research and writing.

Best Practices for Research and Drafting

Reading and note-taking

  • In your notes, always mark someone else's words with a big Q, for quote, or use big quotation marks
  • Indicate in your notes which ideas are taken from sources with a big S, and which are your own insights (ME)
  • When information comes from sources, record relevant documentation in your notes (book and article titles; URLs from the internet)

Interviewing and conversing

  • Take lots of thorough notes; if you have any of your own thoughts as you're interviewing, mark them clearly.
  • If your subject will allow you to record the conversation or interview (and you have proper clearance to do so through an Institutional Review Board, or IRB), place your recording device in an optimal location between you and the speaker so you can hear clearly when you review the recordings. Test your equipment, and bring plenty of backup batteries and backup equipment.
  • If you're interviewing via email, retain copies of the interview subject's emails as well as the ones you send in reply.
  • Make any additional, clarifying notes immediately after the interview has concluded.

Writing paraphrases or summaries

  • Use a statement that credits the source somewhere in the paraphrase or summary (e.g., According to Jonathan Kozol, ...).
  • If you're having trouble summarizing, try writing your paraphrase or summary of a text without looking at the original, relying only on your memory and notes.
  • Check your paraphrase or summary against the original text; correct any errors in content accuracy, and be sure to use quotation marks to set off any exact phrases from the original text.
  • Check your paraphrase or summary against sentence and paragraph structure, as copying those is also considered plagiarism.
  • Put quotation marks around any unique words or phrases that you cannot or do not want to change: e.g., "savage inequalities" exist throughout our educational system (Kozol).

Writing direct quotations

  • Keep the source author's name in the same sentence as the quote.
  • Mark the quote with quotation marks, or set it off from your text in its own block, per the style guide your paper follows.
  • Quote no more material than is necessary; if a short phrase from a source will suffice, don't quote an entire paragraph.
  • To shorten quotes by removing extra information, use ellipsis points (...) to indicate omitted text, keeping in mind that:
    • In longer quotes where you have omitted a sentence in between other complete sentences, maintain terminal puncutation in between the ellipses.
    • Example: "None of the national reports I saw made even passing references to inequality or segregation. . . Booker T. Washington was cited with increasing frequency, Du Bois never, and Martin Luther King only with cautious selectivity." (Kozol 3).
  • To give context to a quote or otherwise add wording to it, place added words in brackets, ( [] ); be careful not to editorialize or make any additions that skew the original meaning of the quote—do that in your main text, e.g.,
    • OK: Kozol claims there are "savage inequalities" in our educational system, which is obvious.
    • WRONG: Kozol claims there are "[obvious] savage inequalities" in our educational system.
  • Use quotes that will have the most rhetorical, argumentative impact in your paper; too many direct quotes from sources may weaken your credibility, as though you have nothing to say yourself, and will certainly interfere with your style

Writing about another's ideas

  • Note the name of the idea's originator in the sentence or throughout a paragraph about the idea.
  • Use parenthetical citations, footnotes, or endnotes to refer readers to additional sources about the idea, as necessary.
  • Be sure to use quotation marks around key phrases or words that the idea's originator used to describe the idea.

Maintaining drafts of your paper

Sometimes innocent, hard-working students are accused of plagiarism because a dishonest student steals their work. This can happen in all kinds of ways, from a roommate copying files off of your computer, to someone finding files on a USB drive left in a computer lab. Here are some practices to keep your own intellectual property safe:

  • Do not save your paper in the same file over and over again; use a numbering system and the Save As... function; E.g., you might have research_paper001.doc, research_paper002.doc, research_paper003.doc as you progress. Do the same thing for any online files you are working with. Having multiple draft versions may help prove that the work is yours (assuming you are being ethical in how you cite ideas in your work!).
  • Maintain copies of your drafts in numerous media, and different secure locations when possible; don't just rely on your hard drive, USB drive, or the cloud.
  • Password-protect your computer; if you have to leave a computer lab for a quick bathroom break, lock or log out of your station.
  • Password-protect your files; this is possible in all sorts of programs, from Adobe Acrobat to Microsoft word (just be sure not to forget the password!).
  • When working in cloud-based platforms, like Box, or Google Drive, be sure to save multiple separate drafts of your work, rather than just editing over the original.

Revising, proofreading, and finalizing your paper

  • Proofread and cross-check with your notes and sources to make sure that anything coming from an outside source is acknowledged in some combination of the following ways:
    • In-text citation, otherwise known as parenthetical citation
    • Footnotes or endnotes
    • Bibliography, References, or Works Cited pages
    • Quotation marks around short quotes; longer quotes set off by themselves, as prescribed by a research and citation style guide
    • Indirect quotations: citing a source that cites another source
    • If you have any questions about citation, ask your instructor well in advance of your paper's due date, so if you have to make any adjustments to your citations, you have the time to do them well.

Works Cited

Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. Crown, 1992.