Question munyaradzi Art, Media & Literature

Components of Original Academic Writing

What components of academic writing help in preventing plagiarism?

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Answer Internal Staff

The foremost goal of academic writing is to express your findings and insights gained from studying a topic in an original manner which either demonstrates understanding of important ideas, debates, skills and processes in a scholarly discipline, or contributes to the field of research under it. Plagiarism, or the uncredited replication of content or findings produced by other writers, is heavily frowned on by the majority of academic institutions, and there are several key principles in academic writing which, if followed, should ensure that this error is not committed.

The first involves correct referencing of any points which are derived from other writers. Universities tend to prescribe one of a variety of referencing styles for this, and details of the precise referencing format to be used are usually to be found in course handbooks; information on all referencing styles is also readily available online. It is ideal that the citation occurs directly after the point being made (e.g. at the end of the sentence containing it) to make its origin clear.

In the above situation, there should also be either proper quotation or paraphrasing of the other author’s statement. If the exact same words have been used, then clear quotation marks need to be applied where these words begin and end. However quotes are usually expected to be used sparingly in most academic pieces, with those covering four lines of text or longer being regarded as particularly lengthy and fit only for occasional appearance. Paraphrasing of source information should be the standard practice for most of the piece: being able to repeat the statement of a fact or idea accurately in different words shows that you understand this point correctly, and also ensures the originality of the prose in the composition. It should be noted that paraphrasing does not negate the need to clearly reference the point. If referencing without distinct quotation or paraphrasing is performed, or quotation/paraphrasing without referencing, plagiarism is being committed, as either the ideas or the words of another writer are being appropriated without proper credit.

Thirdly, in many pieces it is expected that a broad mixture of sources are used in providing information, evidence and ideas for the discussion. If a single source has been relied upon for much of the piece, this does not demonstrate strong efforts in research; also, even if the content and wording of this source has been correctly cited and quoted/paraphrased respectively, accusations of plagiarism can be made if most of the piece simply mirrors another.

Finally, beyond all these strictures concerning the use of sources, it is often imperative that your own insights be present in the work: this can simply amount to stating that you agree/disagree with the view of one source or another and explaining why, or can extend to the development of your own set of ideas and presentation of evidence on a phenomenon. If this has been done, and, where this has been informed by other sources, the above principles have been followed, plagiarism will not have been committed, as an original contribution to academic discourse will have been made, with the contribution of previous authors being properly visible.