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The international student’s guide to avoiding plagiarism

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Writing an essay as an international student can be quite the challenge.

From dealing with tricky academic language to translating complex words, there are lots of hurdles to overcome. Perhaps the most confusing process is understanding what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism is when you present someone else’s ideas as your own. In a university essay, you’ll be discussing different ideas and analyses, some your own, but others taken from readings and articles.

If you don’t credit the source where you found your information – know as referencing – you are at risk of plagiarising.

There are often strict disciplinary measures if you accidentally or purposefully steal someone else’s ideas, which can range from your essay being voided to being removed from your course.

Don’t panic though; Study International can help.

Referencing and plagiarism can be hard to get your head around, especially when you’re not studying in your first language, but it’s vital you brush up your skills and get it right with our tips.

1) Find out what referencing style you need

Just to make matters more confusing, there are actually a few ways to reference your work. The main referencing styles are American Psychological Association, Modern Language Association, Oxford, Harvard and Chicago referencing.

Academics have created these different styles to best suit the subject, so it’s important to find out which format your work requires.

You can usually find which referencing style your school requires in your student textbook.

It’s important you stick to the format outlined in your handbook as marks can be deducted for not standardising all your references.

Study International will be publishing guides to these different referencing styles in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!

2) Get your head around what you need to reference

Now that you know how you need to reference, it’s time to understand what you need to reference.

To guide you along, we’ve broken these down for you:

  • Any quotes you include in your essay
  • Any paraphrasing of ideas you have read
  • Any mention of another thinker;
  • or anything that are not your original thoughts…

… need to be referenced.

Plagiarism rules are there to protect other thinkers’ ‘intellectual property’ from being credited to someone else, so bear in mind you are actually ‘stealing’ if you don’t reference work you quote.

But how can you ever know what you think is your idea is indeed your own, you cry! After hours of reading, note taking and analysing, it can be hard to remember what are your arguments and what came from texts.

If you find yourself in this position, the best thing to do is ask yourself: ‘Could anyone know this?’ Are you putting two and two together in a way that any person logically could? Or are you making a groundbreaking claim that could revolutionize the field?

If it is the former, you’re good to go. It’s unlikely that no person ever has ever said what you are writing, but as long as you are confident you drew the logical conclusion yourself, you should be fine.

However, if its the latter, it’s essential to make sure your idea hasn’t already been proposed.

After a lot of studying, it can be easy for all your readings to blur into one, but a simple CTRL+F search through online journals will allow you to sift through potential articles to see if someone has already written your argument.

3) Avoid self-plagiarising

You can also get yourself in trouble for self-plagiarising. Yes, it’s a thing!

This is when you repeat an idea you proposed in a different piece of work without reviewing it for the new context or adding more information. This is mainly an issue if you literally copy and paste the text, without referencing yourself.

To avoid running into trouble, always use fresh ideas in each essay you write.

Hopefully, your course is varied enough there are always new materials to be drawing on. Repeating your work in new assignments may indicate to the marker you have not done further research and are relying on past knowledge.

It is therefore in your best interest to always try and find new research and ideas to include in your work. It means you stay totally clear of self-plagiarism and you will continue to expand your knowledge and writing skills.

4) Make a note of significant page numbers, authors, work title, and years of publication

No matter which referencing system your school requires, you will need to note the page, author, work, year of publication and place. It’s crucial you accurately reference where quotes came from.

Keeping a note of where you got your information from as you research will settle any extra stress before deadline day. You don’t want to have to spend hours flicking through all the books you read trying to find where that quote was from, so by keeping a record in your essay plans and notes you can save yourself some crucial editing time.

5) Speak to your lecturers

This advice goes for all essay troubleshooting, but especially for technical skills like referencing.

Every lecturer will expect something slightly different and have their own things they’re looking for in an essay, whether that is an intelligent use of quotes or the ability to summarize arguments in your own words.

They’ll be able to offer advice on self-plagiarism and make sure your referencing is up to scratch. Some lecturers are super strict on referencing style, while others are more interested in how you implement your sources to build an argument.

Try and book some time with your lecturer at least a week ahead of the deadline, so you have plenty of time to implement any advice they gave you, rather than having last minute panic trying to fix things the day before.

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