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, a 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 even thinking about the information. If you photocopy a source, be sure you preserve 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. Here are some guidelines for using note cards:

  • Use 4-by-6 cards for taking notes—they accommodate longer notes.

  • Write in 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 of the card 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 she has integrated these notes into her final research paper. It is 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 she can easily document the source 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 “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 a bibliographic card for these sample note cards. In general, you should record any information used to identify and differentiate editions of a work. In addition, to provide an exact reference to the original work, you must note exact page numbers for both quotations and paraphrasing. The information you must record for a citation from a book, for example, might look like the one below as you are recording it during your research.

Example of a Bibliographic Information Card

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: 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 path to those sources so they can understand and evaluate your thinking.

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

  • author’s last name and first name or initials
  • title of the source
  • date of publication, along with the 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, the name 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: 39–54
Date of publication: Spring 1998


  • Keep accurate records of the sources you use, noting all the pertinent information about each source and whether you have quoted from it, summarized it, paraphrased it, or commented on it.

  • Your records should include the author’s last name and first name or initials, the title and edition of the source, the date of publication, the publisher and location, and the page number(s) of material cited.

  • Clearly understand how to quote, paraphrase, and summarize information you borrow and understand how to integrate this information into your paper.

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