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How to Research a Topic

Use these steps to research a topic and document your sources.

What is Plagiarism?


Plagiarism is:

  • Presenting someone else's words or ideas as your own.
  • Simply changing a few words around or using a thesaurus to find substitute words does not make an idea your own. The MLA Handbook recommends you document everything you borrow, including direct quotations, paraphrases, pieces of information, and ideas.

Example:

As Brenda Spatt says in her book, Writing from Sources, "If you present another person's ideas as your own, you are plagiarizing even if you use your own words" (440). She illustrates this point with the following example. Suppose you want to use the material in the following passage, which appears in Leo Gurko's Ernest Hemingway and the Pursuit of Heroism:

The Hemingways put themselves on short rations, ate, drank, and entertained as little as possible, pounced eagerly on the small checks that arrived in the mail as payment for accepted stories, and were intensely conscious of being poor. The sensation was not altogether unpleasant. Their extreme youth, the excitement of living abroad, even the unexpected joy of parenthood, have their poverty a romantic flavor.

If you write the following sentence without any documentation, you have committed plagiarism:

Despite all the economies that they had to make and all the pleasures they had to do without, the Hemingways rather enjoyed the experience of being poor.

To avoid plagiarism, cite your source:

As Leo Gurko has suggested, the experience of being poor was not altogether unpleasant for the Hemingways (33).

Plagiarism Prevention Tips

Here are some tips on how to prevent plagiarism in your own writing:

Tip How to do this Why to do this
Cite Sources
  • It gives authors credit for their work
  • It affects your grade
  • It provides accurate references for your readers
Properly credit authors
  • Use parenthetical citations
  • Use footnotes
  • Use author's name in text
  • It provides a reference for where you got the idea
  • It gives authors credit for their work
  • It affects your grade
Properly quote authors
  • Use quotation marks around direct quotes
  • Provide in-text or footnote citation (depending on the citation style) for direct quotes
  • Paraphrase text, and include a citation for the paraphrase
  • It allows the reader to know which words are yours and which words are another person's words
  • It give authors credit for their work
  • It affects your grade

 


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