Navigating the Information Jungle Part 3: Referencing and Plagiarism

This post follows on from Part 1: Knowing What’s Out There and Part 2: Making Sense of Your Reading Lists

Okay, so you’ve found everything you were looking for – but what about actually including it in your piece of work?

One thing you need to be very careful about is plagiarism. You probably have no intention of committing plagiarism, however a lot of people worry about it anyway, mainly because they are not sure exactly what it is to know how to avoid it.

It is plagiarism if you do any of the following things without acknowledging the other person:

  • Quoting someone else’s work
  • Repeating someone else’s argument in different words (paraphrasing)
  • Using ideas taken from someone else
  • Collaborating with someone else
  • Submiting someone else’s work as your own
XKCD ‘Wikipedian Protester’,

XKCD ‘Wikipedian Protester’,

If you use an argument you have read, whether you directly quote it or whether you paraphrase it in completely different words, if you use someone else’s ideas, whether it’s an author or a classmate you’ve collaborated with, you MUST acknowledge the other person properly otherwise it is plagiarism. Obviously if you submit someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own that’s outright cheating!

If you are caught plagiarising, even without intent, this could have serious consequences for your academic career. If you submit an assessed piece of work to the University that includes plagiarised elements the best case scenario is that you will be given a 0 for that paper. In many cases that will mean you stand no chance of a good final grade for your course. Don’t be scared by this, but perhaps cultivate a healthy low level of paranoia when it comes to crediting sources.

Basically academic writing is a dialogue. You are building on other people’s work so you must give them credit. In turn, you would expect to get recognition for the hard work you’ve done yourself. One day in the not too distant future your dissertation, thesis or articles you write may be being quoted by others, including undergraduates.

Our ‘Research Survival Guide’ session goes into more detail on how to go about referencing, and explores some tools that will make it a lot more painless. But there are a couple of easy things you can start doing now, that will make your life a lot easier when it comes to putting references in your work.

Firstly, find out what referencing style you should use. Most departments will have a preferred (or even a required) referencing style. If you don’t know what style to use, ask your departmental secretary or at your department library.

The other thing to start doing right away is to make sure you make good notes. As you are taking notes from a book or article, make sure that it is clear which parts are direct quotes, what is you paraphrasing what the author said, and which parts are genuinely your own responses to what you’ve been reading. Use colours/symbols/whatever works for you. And remember, whenever you write down a quote or paraphrase in your notes, also jot down where it came from – and that includes page numbers!


About homlib

The Library of Homerton College, University of Cambridge.
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2 Responses to Navigating the Information Jungle Part 3: Referencing and Plagiarism

  1. Pingback: Navigating the Information Jungle: Slides, links and resources | Homerton College Library weblog

  2. Pingback: Navigating the Information Jungle Part 2: Making Sense of Reading Lists | Homerton College Library weblog

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