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.

Referencing systems

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:

Reason Suggestions
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:

Quoting simply means that you copy the words directly from the text and put inverted commas around them. Next to the quote you acknowledge the author from whom you took the words (usually with the author, date of publication of their text and the page number where the quote was found). For example:

According to Brown (2011, p.56) ‘quotes identify key concepts whereas summaries identify and explain ideas’.

Alternatively, you can write:

‘Quotes identify key concepts, whereas summaries identify and explain ideas’ (Brown, 2011, p.56).

The part that goes in the brackets is the part that is not part of the main sentence (it is as though you are saying it as an aside). When you quote you have to copy out the original as it appears in the original, even if there are spelling mistakes or errors. When there is a spelling mistake or error, you simply write the mistake and next to it in brackets you write the word sic. This means ‘thus’ in Latin (so you are indicating thus it was in the original). Here is an example:

Plagiarism is literary fraud whereby, ‘one writer sets forth the words or ideas of another writer as his (sic) own in order to get gain’ (Hatch, 2007, p.12).

‘Sic’ is used here because it is incorrect to use sexist language (his). When you write, you should refer to she/he or his/her rather than either gender when making general statements. Of course, if you are talking about issues that apply specifically to one gender only, you would use he or she. For example:

When the woman was interviewed she described both personal and political issues.

When you quote and you want to leave out part of the original quote because it is too long or irrelevant, you use three dots, for example:

‘…the long lasting negative effects of discrimination can be mediated’ (Jones & Morgan 2011, p.42).

You can also leave out part of the quote in the middle, for example:

‘When you quote and you want to leave out part of the original quote…you use three dots’ (Butler 2012, p. 106).

If you use a long quote (more than two lines), you usually indent it from the margins of the page, make it single spaced without quotation marks and the author date details are usually below the quote on a separate line.

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting as one’s own original work the ideas, interpretations, words or creative works of another. These include published and unpublished documents, designs, music, sounds, images, photographs, computer codes and ideas gained through working in a group. These ideas, interpretations, words or works may be found in print and/or electronic media.

-University of Queensland Handbook of Policies and Procedures (2008).

When you should quote

In general, you should not use many direct quotes in your writing. You should have many references to authors, but direct quotes of their actual words should be limited. If you quote a lot, you are showing that you can identify relevant information, but if you explain the ideas in your own words, you show that you can both identify and understand the information. Usually quotes are short and identify the key ideas which are stated in a particularly succinct or clever way. There is no value in having a long quote which you could explain yourself in fewer words. All the same, it is sometimes necessary to use a long quote (as shown above) for example, when you want to cite a piece of policy or legislation or a piece of information where it is important that the actual words are presented.

Paraphrasing means that you choose some text and try to rewrite it by making some changes to it, but essentially it is fairly close to the original. Paraphrasing that is very close to the original text can fall into the realm of plagiarism even if you acknowledge the source of your information because you have basically used other people’s words and just changed one or two words. This shows very little understanding or thinking and is unlikely to be well received. A paraphrase should really be an explanation of the idea using your words and style of writing. Let’s look at examples of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing of the following text:

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting as one’s own original work the ideas, interpretations, words or creative works of another. These include published and unpublished documents, designs, music, sounds, images, photographs, computer codes and ideas gained through working in a group. These ideas, interpretations, words or works may be found in print and/or electronic media.

-University of Queensland Handbook of Policies and Procedures (2008)

The following paraphrase is unacceptable because the only words that have been changed are those in bold. For the most part the sentence structure, word order and words used are the same.

Plagiarism is the process of claiming as one’s own original work the thoughts, interpretations, words and creative thinking of another. This includes published and unpublished manuscripts of any kind as well as ideas gained through group work. This applies to both print and electronic media (The University of Queensland, 2008).

The following paraphrase is acceptable because it is substantially different from the original in word choice, sentence construction and word order, yet it still retains the original meaning:

Writers are guilty of plagiarism anytime when they claim ownership directly or indirectly of someone else’s work. This applies to published and unpublished documents as well as to ideas from all sources such as computer codes, plans, sounds, images or even ideas from discussion groups (The University of Queensland, 2008).

How to paraphrase

When you paraphrase try some of these strategies:

• Change the order of the words in the sentence.
• Change the order of the sentences (as long as they still make logical sense).
• Use words that come naturally to you when you think about trying to explain the ideas.
• Change the voice of the sentence (passive to active and vice versa). Here are two examples of active and passive voice:

Active: The student handed in her essay. (Subject = student, verb = handed in, object = essay).
Passive: The essay was handed in by the student. (Subject = essay, object = student, verb = was handed in).

Usually active voice is more direct and clearer than passive voice. So you are most likely to use active voice more often. All the same, if you want to avoid use of personal pronouns such as ‘I’, the passive voice can be used.

• Try to write without the original in front of you.
• Join two sentences together.
• Separate longer sentences into shorter sentences.
• Do not simply use the thesaurus to change words, unless you are confident the word is a good match. Some words have similar meanings, but are only used in particular contexts

When you should paraphrase

You should paraphrase when you want to stay close to the original idea but you do not want to quote directly. As with quoting, when you paraphrase, you must also include the name and date of the author. Your writing should include more paraphrases than direct quotations.

Summarising means that you take information and explain just the key ideas in your own words. You can read a whole article, for example, and summarise the main ideas of it in just one or two sentences. The advantage of summarising is that you can explain ideas in your own words and you can make links between different authors by summarising their key ideas and showing the similarities and differences between them. Summarising is the option that you should use most often, followed by paraphrasing and then quoting (least often). Summarising and compacting ideas into a few sentences in your own words challenges you to think. Your summary will reveal your understanding, not just a ‘cut and paste’ of someone else’s ideas.

When summarising, read the text, underline or highlight key words and write key word summaries of each paragraph in the margin (see the section on reading). When you have finished reading a paragraph or section, consider what the most important ideas are or which ideas are most relevant to your topic or to the point you want to make in your writing. Try to write these ideas in your own words without looking at the original. Explain the ideas using the language and style that comes naturally to you. Of course you will still need to include the author’s name and date.

In a sense, summarising is similar to effective paraphrasing because you try to write the ideas in your own words and in your own style. The difference is that summarising is often reducing a lot of text to a much shorter text, whereas paraphrasing is often similar in length to the original and is quite closely related to some specific sentences in the original.
Here is an example of a summary of this whole section:

Butler (2012) argues that it is preferable to summarise and paraphrase rather than to quote directly. She further argues that ineffective paraphrases which are too close to the original texts, can be seen as plagiarism.

Problems with summarising and paraphrasing

Sometimes when you paraphrase or summarise different authors or sources next to each other, it can be confusing as to which author you are referring to, and even whether you are referring to an author or your own opinion. Remember, you are entitled to express an opinion (in fact you are encouraged to do this because it gives you the opportunity to show that you can think critically), but your opinion should be based on the text you are referencing. Opinions on the texts that you use in your writing usually point out the relevance, usefulness, strengths, weaknesses or disadvantages of an idea or they extrapolate (take an idea further) to see how it can be applied. Refer to the section on critical thinking.
Here are a few examples that will help you to avoid confusion about who you are referring to in your writing when summarising and paraphrasing.

Referring to multiple points from one author

Confusing Clear
People learn to lie early in life when there seems to be an advantage in lying rather than telling the truth. If children are not challenged about not telling the truth they can become adept at deception. The role of parenting is significant in teaching children honesty (Hallidy, 2011).
There are a number of sentences before the reader sees who the author is. It is clear that the last sentence is from Hallidy, but it is not clear where the first two sentences come from.
Hallidy (2011) argues that people learn to lie early in life when there seems to be an advantage in lying rather than telling the truth. She argues that if children are not challenged about telling the truth, they can become adept at deception. Thus, Hallidy suggests that the role of parening is significant in teaching children honesty.
This is clear, because each sentence is accounted for in terms of referencing.

Referring to different authors with similar ideas

Confusing Clear
According to Haynes (2010) people learn better when they are highly motivated. Learning is also improved when students engage with course material.
It is not clear whether the second sentence is Haynes’ idea or not.
According to Haynes (2010) people learn better when they are highly motivated. Additionally, Jolly (2011) argues that learning is also improved when students actively engage with course material.
The use of ‘additionally Jolly (2011)’ makes it clear from the beginning of the second sentence that it is another author’s idea which is similar to Hayne’s idea.

Including a comment on a text

Confusing Clear
Jordon (2011) argues that academic writing is the most significant test of student thinking and understanding. This suggests that exams are a less useful method of assessing students.
It is not clear whether the comment in the second sentence is Jordon’s comment or the student’s opinion about the first sentence.
Jordon (2011) argues that academic writing is the most significant test of student thinking and understanding. He suggests that exams are a less useful method of assessing students.
Use of the pronoun ‘he’ shows that the comment on the text belongs to Jordon.
OR
Jordon (2011) argues that academic writing is the most significant test of student thinking and understanding. If this is the case, it is likely that exams are a less useful method of assessing students.
The comment on the text belongs to the student, indicated by the tentative language (if…..it is likely that).

Compiling a reference list

Most referencing systems require a list of the sources of information that you have used to compile your essay or piece of writing. This is most often called a List of References or References. Sometimes lecturers and tutors will call it a bibliography. Check the referencing system that you are required to use to find out what title you should use. (Strictly speaking a bibliography means a list of sources on the topic, not necessarily sources you have referred to or cited in your essay).

A reference list or list of references is simply a list of all the sources you have referred to in your essay. If you have not cited the author’s name in your essay, you cannot include that author in your reference list. The sources of information that you use can include books, journals, on line resources, films, TV documentaries, private conversations and websites. These resources are not separated into categories such as books, websites and so on. They are simply listed alphabetically by author (family name first). Most systems do not number the works in the reference list.

Usually, reference lists are arranged as follows:

• Author (family name)
• Comma
• Initial of first name, or in some systems the initials of the first two names (but writing the first name is less common)
• Initials are followed by a full stop (eg APA) or a comma (eg Harvard)
• Date of publication, sometimes in brackets (for example, APA) and sometimes not (for example, Harvard)
• Title of book usually in italics usually with only the first letter of the title capitalised
• The place of publication and the name of the publishing company (Harvard places the publishing company first, followed by the name of the publishing company and APA puts the place of publication before the name of the company)

Here is an example of how this might look (using the APA and Harvard referencing systems):

System Example
APA Jorges, T. (2010). Creativity for university students. Brisbane: McGraw Hill.
Harvard Jorges, TM 2010, Creativity for university students, McGraw Hill, Brisbane

If you are referencing an article in a journal, you start with the family name of the author and the initials and the date of publication (as above) but you then put the title of the article (with only the first letter of the title capitalised followed by the name of the journal in italics (with each first letter in the name of the journal capitalised), followed by the volume, number and first and last page numbers of the article.

System Harvard
APA Lave, S. (2010). Ethnicity and music practice. The Journal of New World Music, 3(20), 103 -109.
Harvard Lave, SB 2010, ‘Ethnicity and music practice’, The Journal of New World Music, vol. 3, no.20, pp. 103 -109.

It is very important that you check the exact requirements in your discipline or subject. There can be variations even within one style, for example, there are many variations on the Harvard system and older versions of the system will be different from later ones.

Other specific referencing requirements

There are a number of aspects of referencing which are too specific to explain here, but which are well explained in referencing guides. You need to be aware that you should look up the relevant conventions when referencing the following:

• Websites: The reference list usually includes the universal reference location (http://www….) (but this is not included in the essay). Your reference list must also include the date when the page or website was compiled (if available) as well as the date when you accessed or viewed the website.

• Chapters in an edited book (usually each chapter is written by a different author and an editor has put the book together).

• Works with two or more authors. There are system specific guidelines about when to use et al. (which means ‘and others’). This means that you do not need to write all the authors’ names when there are many of them. (Check guidelines as to how this is done in both the reference list and in the body of the essay in the specific system you are required to use).

• A secondary source. This means that you read an author who cited another author and you want to use that idea in your essay. So, for example you might have read Jones (2011) who referred to Smith (2010). So you write: Smith (2010) cited in Jones (2011) argues……….

In your reference list you simply include Jones (because that is the author you read) and you do not include Smith in your list because you did not read Smith. If you pretend, you read Smith when you did not, and you put the reference in without reading it, you can be accused of plagiarism.

• Journals and books you read online.

• Sources where the same author published two or more works in the same year and you want to refer to more than one of them.

• A thesis.

• Private conversations.

• Lecture notes.

• DVD’s and television shows

The University of Queensland Library home page has excellent guides (under the help and referencing styles tabs) which show how to reference all of the above and more (both in your essay and in your reference list). Most major universities would have similar information on their library websites. Make sure that you check the requirements for the referencing system you are required to use.

There are also software packages like RefWorks and EndNote that will help organise references, but you need to learn to use them which can take time and effort. Also, you should understand the basics of referencing so that you can check the software and manage those aspects of referencing that the computer cannot manage.

Reflection and Conclusion

Strategies for you

Since reading this section have you thought about differently with regard to avoiding plagiarism ?

What are the most important strategies that you will trial to help you to summarise and paraphrase?