Throughout most of human history, plagiarism was not a crime—it was an art form. While historians have accused many great artists and thinkers of the practice, the charges rarely stuck. Some even wagged their tongues at the moral prudes: as Pablo Picasso once cheekily remarked, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” For all we know, though, Picasso may have snagged the quote from someone else.
Of course, plagiarism, which means “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own,” is now considered a serious violation. (In fact, my own plagiarism paranoia compels me to disclose that the definition I’ve used comes from the online Merriam Webster dictionary.) In the academic world, instructors repeatedly remind students of the consequences of plagiarism, including probation and expulsion. Yet every year there are students who try to pass off another’s ideas as their own.
Generally there are two types of students who plagiarize: students who believe they can pull a fast one on their instructors, and students who fail to follow the rules (in most cases simply because they are ignorant of them). There is not much this blog post can do to help the first category of student. But it can help the second category with the following tips for adhering to the APA style
Tip 1: Use the Style to Reference and Cite Accurately
Referencing often flummoxes APA writers, particularly neophytes. They will forget to cite either the author or the date (and sometimes both), or they will be unsure how to refer to a work written by multiple authors. And that’s without asking them when the abbreviation “et al.” should be used!
The good news is that the APA style manual gives clear rules for in-text citations. For example, direct quotes in a text should always include, in parentheses, the name of the author or authors and the year the work was published. The author and year must also be provided when an idea is paraphrased—despite putting it “in your own words,” you must still credit the source.
For works by two authors, always cite both names. With three or more authors, cite all names the first time they are referenced in the text, then in each subsequent mention cite the last name of the first author followed by “et al.” (which in Latin means “and others”!).
Tip 2: Proofread References for Completeness and Accuracy
We have all been there: Your APA paper is due in a few hours, and you are rushing to put the finishing touches on it. You are exhausted, and the last thing you want is to double-check every reference on your list. But this is also the surest way to leave a critical error in the document.
As important as writing the paper itself is taking the time to ensure you have credited your sources accurately. Each reference should contain the following: the author’s last name and first initial of their first name; the title of the publication; the date it was published; and the relevant publication information. The APA style manual will tell you the information you need to include depending on the type of source you are using. You can use reference management programs, but these are likely to lead you astray and so should not replace double-checking your references with the APA style manual.
Tip 3: Quote and Paraphrase Your Sources Clearly
Use quotation marks for passages that are 40 words or fewer; if the quotation is longer than 40 words, start a block quotation without quotation marks and cite the author(s), the year, and the paragraph or page number, all in parentheses, at the end of the quote. While it may seem tacit, it is also important that you reproduce the quote exactly as in the original, including syntax and punctuation, even if it is awkward or incorrect.
When it comes to paraphrasing, make sure the words you use are clearly distinguished from the author’s original. This is not just a matter of simply choosing different words, but also of ensuring your voice is distinct, and matches the tone you use in the rest of your paper.