Plagiarism may be intentional, for instance if writers deliberately copy someone else's work and submit it as their own. Often, however, it is unintentional.
Although there may be a number of explanations for deliberate plagiarism, such as poor planning or lack of honest intentions, unintentional plagiarism can typically be linked to the writer's lack of understanding of the task at hand, of the subject itself, or lack of knowledge about the rules of writing.
In order to avoid the risk of plagiarism, writers therefore need to know how to use sources in an appropriate way. Read more about that in the AWELU section about the function of references:
How to avoid plagiarism
By acquainting themselves with the rules and conventions of academic writing, writers minimise the risk of plagiarism.
What are the rules?
Students must familiarise themselves with the rules and regulations concerning examination and academic writing at their departments. All departments have guidelines for degree essay writing, for instance. Students who are not sure of what rules apply need to ask their teachers and supervisors.
For writers of articles or other forms of scholarly publications, it is important to follow the publisher's guidelines concerning referencing and acknowledgement of sources and previous publications. Many journals and publishing houses have detailed guidelines for writers on their home pages. Read more about this here:
What is the assignment?
Students writing essays or other forms of written assignments need to make sure that they have understood the task at hand and the demands that are put on them. More information about this is found here:
Inappropriate collaboration in examination assignments is called collusion. Unless specifically stated by the examiner, collaboration between students is not allowed in a situation involving examination. For take-home exams, for instance, it is important to follow the instructions that have been given. Read more about this in the AWELU section on collusion:
How are references provided?
Academic writing is characterised by its strict adherence to specific formats. In order to write an academic paper (essay, article, etc.) it is necessary to be acquainted with writing conventions of the field and text genre. Students should follow the departmental guidelines and scholars writing for journal publication need to conform to the house style of the specific journal. For more information about reference styles, see the AWELU section on referencing:
Importance of constructing a "textual identity"
In an article about plagiarism in students' writing, Abasi, Akbari and Graves (2006) argue that by raising their own disciplinary identity, students can improve their writing and their awareness of how to incorporate sources in their own texts. They suggest that because of “the situated nature of all writing, every social context may require writers to construct particular identities that are unique to that context” (p. 114). One way of doing this, they suggest, is to ask students to
consult their prospective disciplines and analyze texts written by expert members or by their more socialized peers in terms of the textual identities that these writers construct in their writing. The students can then report their findings to the class. This activity can raise students’ consciousness about the identity options available to them in their disciplines and help them write better. (p. 114)
This can also be done on an individual basis, of course; analysing other writers’ texts is, in fact, a good way of identifying successful (and less successful) writing strategies.
Being a careful reader and note-taker
By being aware of the referencing conventions already at the pre-writing stage (for instance when taking notes while reading), writers will be able to make better use of their notes in their writing. More information about this is given in the AWELU section called
Double-check notes and sources in order to avoid misrepresentation of the original text. If paraphrases are too close to the original source, change them into accurate quotations or rephrase accordingly. Always give credit to any source that is being used.
When in doubt, give credit
When in doubt, use a reference. In order to avoid accidental plagiarism, always give credit if you are uncertain.