Writing manuscripts in English can sometimes be a struggle for many scientists who are non-native speakers. In a survey on academic publishing issues, a whopping 76% of academics found it to be a challenge. The most common mistakes appear to be grammatical errors (49%), unclear language (15%), and an improper choice of words (10%). Added to this, making sure one’s work is completely free of accidental plagiarism can make any academic spend sleepless nights rigorously combing through their manuscript.
Here are five easy steps by which you can avoid accidental plagiarism and the reputational damage that can come with it.
- Scrupulously acknowledge prior relevant work. A study published a few years back found that 12% of medicine articles and 27% of natural sciences’ papers are not cited. It is an unfortunate reality that many academics do not reference existing work. When writing an academic paper, acknowledge as much of the field’s previous work as possible. Cite all sources for the ideas and methods used in your research, including your own previously published work, and be sure to differentiate between your own ideas and those of other scholars.
- Use quotation marks for direct quotes. If repeating another scholar’s words verbatim, be sure to use quotation marks. Be aware, however, that directly quoting other scholars is considered more appropriate in the humanities than in the sciences.
- Use your own words when paraphrasing the ideas of others. Paraphrasing is the practice of restating the ideas of others in your own words. Remember, however, that true paraphrasing cannot be achieved by simply copying a passage from someone else’s writing and then changing a few words. Instead, you should write an entirely original passage describing the other scholar’s ideas, and you should include citations of the scholar’s own publications.
- When taking notes, clearly indicate direct quotations. If you quote another scholar’s ideas in your notes, there is a risk that you will mistake the quote for your own words when reviewing your notes at a later date. This could lead to accidental plagiarism. To avoid this risk, clearly indicate quotes with quotation marks within your personal notes. Alternatively, you can aim to always paraphrase the words of other scholars instead of quoting them directly.
- Provide citations even for commonly known facts. Many scientific facts are so widely known that you may not feel any need to provide a citation for them. However, a fact that is widely known among scholars in your field may still be new information to a student who is just starting to learn about the subject of your research, and omitting a citation for a claim may lead that student to believe that the claim is your original idea. You should therefore include citations for previously established facts as much as is practically possible.
By following these five simple guidelines in your writing, you can ensure that you clearly distinguish between your ideas and those of others.
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