Accidental plagiarism is often a result of how you take notes. When we
research a topic, most of us are delighted to find any information on a
topic. The focus of our notes is recording any and all information that might be useful
for our final paper. However, we often donít know whether we will actually
use that piece of information until weíre writing the paper
days, even weeks later.
By the time we use our notes, weíve usually forgotten exactly where they
came from and whether we had copied the authorís exact words,
paraphrased her or written
our own interpretation of the information. If the source of the information
is not clearly indicated on your notes, it is easy to overlook direct
quotes, paraphrase, and common knowledge when you use these notes in
writing your paper. Any of these oversights might result in unintentional plagiarism.
The following strategies can help you avoid these problems when you are
- Always include information about your source with the notes from that
source. For example, put the source information on the reverse side of a
note card if you use cards or copy the title page if you are photocopying
parts of a book.
- Put quotation marks around direct quotes, the information that you
have copied word-for-word from the source. You can also use a highlight
color or some other code that identifies exact copy material.
- It is better to copy your sources exact words than closely paraphrase
or slightly alter the authorís words. It is
difficult to safely use closely paraphrased material at a later time, when
you are actually writing your paper. You run the risk of plagiarizing if
you donít remember which words were the authorís
and which were yours.
- Many sources recommend the best way to take notes is to close the
Ďbook,í not look at your source, to
ensure you are writing your own interpretation of the ideas in your own
words. Once youíve written your version, you can check the original source
for accuracy and to make sure you didnít accidentally use the authorís
original wording. The result is a true paraphrase or summary.
- In some manner highlight true paraphrases you have written in your
notes (underline, highlighter pen, highlight color
in a wordprocesser, or some other method) so you remember to properly
acknowledge the original authorís ideas if you include the information in
your final paper.
- If your professor accepts as common knowledge information that appears
in a number of sources, it is worth noting the sources where potential
common knowledge items appear so you can objectively determine if they
meet the criteria.