Verifying References

John L. Waltman (1980) refers to unintentional plagiarism as “careless paraphrasing and citing or source material such that improper or misleading credit is given." (p. 37) At this stage of the writing process, you might be guilty of unintentional plagiarism because you are in the process of learning a new skill and people make mistakes when they learn new skills. However, this is the time to catch those errors because—once the final paper is submitted—no distinction will be made between intentional and unintentional plagiarism.

In this activity, one of your colleagues will verify that you are doing your references properly. And if your partner finds that you are guilty of unintentional plagiarism, you still have time to fix your errors before submitting your final paper for evaluation. Once your partner has verified your references, you will not need to have any fear that you have somehow accidentally committed plagiarism. In addition, you will have the opportunity to verify your partner's references to make sure that he/she has everything properly referenced.

Directions for Activity

Step 1: Select a Partner

    You should pick a partner with whom you want to work on this assignment.

Step 2: Switch Papers

    You and your partner should take each other's draft manuscript for the final paper along with copies of all research materials used for the paper.

Step 3: Verify References

    Quickly read your partner's paper.

    As you re-read the paper, mark all citations that appear in the paper whether they are direct quotes, paraphrases, summaries, or ideas. Next, you should check your partner's references against the original sources; copies of which should have been given to you by your partner. Make sure that your partner's quotes are accurate and that paraphrases and summaries are true to the original source. You should also make sure that your partner clearly distinguishes material from other sources from his/her own thoughts. As you verify the accuracy of the sources, check to make sure that your partner has followed proper MLA format (Gilardi 2003). You should also check to make sure that no typographical errors appear in the URL for web pages or other references (e.g. listing the publication date as 1989 instead of 1998).

    Once you have checked all of the references listed in your partner's paper, re-read it again. But this time, consider whether it is likely that a passage appears to be a quotation, summary, paraphrase, or idea that should have a citation. For example, does your partner make reference to a study that she/he could not have done? Or does the vocabulary or sentence structure appear to be in a style other than your partner's? Check the reference material given to you by your partner to see if you can find similar passages. Even if you cannot find the references for the material that you find questionable, be sure to make a notation for your partner.

Step 4: Return Paper

    Return your partner's paper to him/her. Spend time discussing the paper. If you found instances of accidental plagiarism, be sure to show your partner how to document correctly. You should also be sure to ask your partner about passages you would have expected to find documentation. In pointing out these passages, you are not accusing your partner of plagiarism.

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Photo Credit: Fergus Ray Murray

Avoiding Plagiarism

Ashworth and Bannister (1997) found that “some students have a fear that they might well plagiarize unwittingly in writing what they genuinely take to be their own ideas." And in their study of graduate students, Love and Simmons (1998) cite the fear of one student who reported that “People know when they are cheating, but might not know when they are plagiarizing." Some of this fear could come from the fact that many students are unclear on the concept of what constituted plagiarism (Thompson and Williams 1995; Lathrop and Foss 2000). You should take time to verify your references before submitting your paper for evaluation. Double check the references in your paper against the original sources and not just against your notes. A careful researcher does not need to fear that he or she has committed unintentional plagiarism.

References and Resources

    Ashworth, Peter, and Philip Bannister. "Guilty in Whose Eyes? University Student's Perceptions of Cheating and Plagiarism in Academic Work and Assessment." Studies in Higher Education 22.2 (1997): 187+.

    Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York. The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.

    Lathrop, Ann , and Kathleen Foss. Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2000.

    Love, Patrick, and Janice Simmons. "Factors Influencing Cheating and Plagiarism Among Graduate Students in a College of Education." College Student Journal 32.4 (1998): 539+.

    Thompson, Leonora C., and Portia G. Williams. "But I Changed Three Words!" Clearing House 69.1 (1995): 27+.

    Waltman, John L. “Plagiarism: (2) Preventing It in Formal Research Reports." ABC Bulletin 43.2 (1980): 37-38. Cited in Lathrop, Ann and Kathleen Foss. Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internete Era. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2000. p. 163.

  • Wilhoit, Stephen. “Helping Students Avoid Plagiarism." College Teaching 42.4 (1994): 161+.