Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 5: Academic Integrity and Documentation

Avoiding Plagiarism

Keeping Accurate Records

Keeping good records is essential to help you guard against plagiarism. Your records may take the form of note cards, bibliographic cards, your research log, or even photocopies of articles or pages. Whenever you consult a source, make a habit of writing down all the relevant information, from the details about the source to the notes you have taken from it. Always note whether you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing information you found or musing about the information. If you photocopy a source, be sure that you have preserved the correct bibliographic information and page numbers.

Using carefully organized note cards can also help you guard against plagiarism and even help you develop your own ideas while you are researching. Some guidelines for using note cards are listed below:

  • Use 4-by-6 cards for taking notes—these accommodate longer notes.
  • Write with ink—pencil often smudges and becomes unreadable.
  • Write only a single idea on each note card. If your notes require more than one card, staple them together. Staple personal comment note cards to the source card to which they refer.
  • Write the source of the note in the upper left corner and the topic, context, or general heading in the upper right corner.
  • Use note cards for summaries, paraphrases, quotations, and personal comments.

The following sample note card contains the pertinent information one writer will need later when he or she has integrated these notes into the final research paper. It’s important that the writer introduce the quotation in the context of the idea being developed (systems thinking and organizational change) and then place quotation marks around the exact quotation, noting the author and page number so he or she can easily document the sources later.

Example of a Note Card Combining Paraphrase and Quotation

Senge, et al. 89–90 Systems thinking and organizational change

Systems thinking includes methodologies, tools, and principles used to view common processes in terms of dynamic and related forces. Systems thinking is being used to detect and describe how to achieve change in organizations. Called "system dynamics," these tools and methods help us to understand "how complex feedback processes can generate problematic patterns of behavior within organizations and large-scale human systems." (p. 90)

You will also want to make note cards with your personal comments to help you recall what you were thinking when you were researching. Personal comments can be your questions, ideas, conclusions, explanations of terms or ideas, clarification of an issue, or even new ideas. Here is a sample note card with a personal comment. Notice that the note card is marked as "personal comment."

Example of a Note Card with a Personal Comment

Personal Comment

System dynamics attempts to discover the positive changes in the organization and describe the complex processes. However, there is no single right answer to any question—the interrelated structural processes are merely illustrated. Also, note that some consequences of change are desired; others are unintended.

The following is a sample of the bibliographic card for these sample note cards. In general, any information used to identify and differentiate editions of a work should be recorded. In addition, to provide an exact reference to the original work, exact page numbers should be noted for both quotations and paraphrasing. The information you need to record for a citation from a book, for example, might look like the following as you are recording it during your research:

Example of a Bibliographic Information

Authors: Peter M. Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard B. Ross, and Bryan J. Smith
Work: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization
Publisher: Doubleday
Place of publication: New York
Date of publication: 1994
Pages cited: pp. 89–90

Remember the main reasons you are keeping accurate records: first, you are acknowledging your sources, and, second, you are giving your readers a trail to those sources so they can understand and evaluate your thinking.

In summary, here is what is usually required to provide a path to your sources:

  • author’s last name and first name or initials
  • title of the source and edition
  • date of publication, along with edition, if appropriate
  • publisher and location
  • page number(s) of material cited

For journal articles, you must record the author’s name, the title of the article and of the journal in which it appears, the volume and issue numbers, the inclusive pages of the article, and the date of the journal issue.

Example of a Note Card for a Journal Article

Authors: John Barrie and R. Wayne Pace
Title: "Learning for Organizational Effectiveness: Philosophy of Education and Human Resource Development"
Journal: Human Resource Development Quarterly
Volume and issue: Vol. 9, Spring 1998, Number 1
Publisher: American Society for Training and Development and the Academy of Human Resource Development
Pages: pp. 39–54
Date of publication: Spring 1998