Referencing and avoiding plagiariasm is an important part of academic life . When you write an assignment you will always have to refer to authors you have read. You must always tell you reader whose ideas you are using in your writing (by referencing or stating the author’s name and usually the date). You cannot take an idea from someone else (anyone at all) and use it is your own. Universities use many different styles or systems of referencing, and it is important that you consistently use only one style in your writing. In other words, do not mix the features of two different referencing styles.
There are many different styles of referencing, for example: Harvard, American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Languages Association of America (MLA), Chicago, Vancouver and so on. Probably the most commonly used systems are Harvard and APA. Often different faculties and sometimes even different discipline areas within faculties will use different referencing systems. This can be confusing for students, but there is plenty of help available. Most libraries have help pages which point students to the details of different referencing systems; there are also many internet sites which are helpful and sometimes discipline areas will publish a guide for students to follow. It is important that you find out which referencing system is required and that you follow the system to the smallest detail. There is a lot of variation between systems and some of the differences can be quite subtle, for example use of brackets around dates, use of commas and full stops and use of page numbers. Most referencing systems require you to reference in the body of your writing, but some use footnotes (often numbered) at the bottom of the page. All referencing systems need a list of references at the end of the essay.
What is plagiarism?
Most universities have policies about plagiarism which you should read. In general, plagiarism means that you use the work of others without acknowledging them. It is not the purpose of this section to discuss all the different referencing systems, instead, I will point out some general principles about referencing, mainly to highlight the importance of avoiding plagiarism. In most Australian universities, you can be found ‘guilty’ of plagiarism if you do any of the following:
• directly copy the work of an author without using quotation marks around their words
• summarise or paraphrase an author and do not acknowledge that author in the body of your essay
• work with other students and submit the same work as though you had each done it individually
• copy another student’s work (for example an essay, results from a practical, tables, graphs and so on)
• buy, are given or steal essays or parts of essays and submit them as your own
• make up references that you did not read
• have someone make major corrections to your assignments
• hand in the same assignment or large parts of the same assignment more than once for credit in different subjects or within one subject.
It is important to note that plagiarism of another person’s work is not restricted to words and ideas, it also includes pictures, digital information, plans, statistical data, musical scores ……anything at all that you did not think up yourself. This includes information that another author or person has created and also information that has been gathered or analysed by organisations, for example the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
How to avoid plagiarism
Possibly the single most important way to avoid plagiarism is to avoid a ‘cut and paste’ approach to writing. If you write by finding ‘bits’ that you want to use and then you try to tie them into ýour writing, you are more likely to plagiarise because you are focussing mostly on the authors’ specific sentences that you want to use, rather than the ideas you want to communicate. When you have an author’s words in front of you, it is often difficult to write them in your own words. On the other hand, if you step back from the authors and look through your notes (which you should have written in your own words) you can concentrate more on the ideas you want to include in your writing (rather than starting with the author’s words). When you have written the ideas you want to use prompted by your notes, you can look back at the author’s actual words in the text you read to be sure that you have details and accuracy. This is a ‘thinking’ approach to writing and you are much less likely to plagiarise if you approach writing this way (see the sections on reading and the assignment writing process for more information about this).
Why do students plagiarise?
There are many reasons why students plagiarise. Some of these are unintentional. All the same, in the eyes of most lecturers, ignorance is no defence. Below is a table of reasons that students sometimes give for plagiarism together with some suggestions to overcome them:
|I didn’t know…||• Read university policies
• Attend workshops
• Take part in tutorials
• Ask lecturers and tutors to clarify policies
|The author wrote exactly what I thought||• Use the author’s actual words and use quotation marks around them. Reference the author in the sentence OR
• Write the ideas in your own words and reference the author
|The author wrote it better than I could write it||• Use a direct quote (actual words in quotation marks) and reference the author|
|In my country or my last learning environment, this is what we did||• This is not a valid excuse. Find out about what is expected; read policies and ask questions if you are unsure|
|These are my words, I copied them out myself…..I even paid for the book!||• They are not your words because you copied them out or paid for them. You must acknowledge the source of your information|
Why referencing is important
Apart from avoiding plagiarism, there are a number of good reasons why it is important to reference the ideas of people you use to create your work. Here are some:
• Referencing gives credibility to your work. It shows that you have read the people who are most important and well published in the field.
• It is ethical and fair to acknowledge people’s ideas. There is a good chance they have spent considerable time and effort coming up with those ideas, so it is fair and reasonable to acknowledge them.
• There are copyright laws to consider and if you do not get into the habit of acknowledging sources, it is possible that you could face fines or even a law suit.
• Referencing makes it possible for your reader to follow up and read your sources themselves.
How to reference sources
Basically you have three options. You can directly quote the ideas, you can summarise them or you can paraphrase them. Let’s look at each of these options: