The purpose of writing an essay is to show your knowledge about a subject. Plagiarism is when you take credit for someone else’s words, ideas or sentences, or don’t acknowledge a source of information used in your essay. When you document the sources that you use to write your essay, you demonstrate an understanding of what others have said in the past, add credibility to your arguments, give your readers a way to find more information and avoid plagiarism.
Quotations are a good way to avoid plagiarism when you want to include word-for-word information that’s important, backs up your argument, states a notable position or is worth discussing in depth, according to Jerry Plotnick in his article, “Using Quotations” on the University of Toronto’s website. When you quote someone else’s words, follow the assigned or preferred writing style manual, usually MLA or APA, to cite the names of authors and publications correctly. As you write, keep in mind that an essay isn’t a collection of quotations. Instead, only use quotations to support what you write.
Paraphrasing is when you use your own words to express someone else’s ideas. This practice allows you to include information from other sources without turning your essay into a scrapbook page of quotations. When you paraphrase, your writing style and voice remains consistent throughout the essay. Yale University’s online article “Fair Paraphrase” points out that when you effectively paraphrase someone else’s idea, you communicate the main point and leave out unnecessary information and unrelated claims. After paraphrasing, you attribute the source of information according to the writing style format you are using.
Summarizing is a more condensed form of paraphrasing. In the Purdue Online Writing Lab article “Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing,” Dana Lynn Driscoll and Allen Brizee state that you only write about a source’s main points when you summarize. For example, you may share an article’s overall point or highlight key ideas that another person uses to support an argument. After summarizing information, avoid plagiarism by acknowledging the source of information.
There may be times when you have to reference common knowledge in an essay. According to the University of Toronto’s online article, “Common Knowledge,” this is information that most people already know or can easily find in a reference book like an encyclopedia. In some cases, you may not be able to attribute this type of information to a single person, but at least five sources back up a claim. The University of Toronto states that you generally don’t have to cite a source when you write something that a peer may consider common knowledge. However, it’s good practice to add a citation if you further examine the idea in your essay or think that the reader would benefit from having the additional reference.