So you're in an adult education class and your teacher wants you to write a research paper. You feel confident about your writing skills, but it's been decades since you wrote anything. You may be in danger of accidentally committing plagiarism. Learning how to avoid this can keep you from looking bad in the eyes of your teacher.
What Is Plagiarism?
If you've been out of school for a long time (or never went to college or a university), it can be tricky to understand plagiarism and what it even is. Basically, plagiarism is theft of somebody else's ideas. You aren't presenting them as something you've read somewhere, but as your own work.
This can occur in a variety of ways, including:
Directly quoting somebody without letting the reader know who said it
Copying words or ideas from somebody else's literary work
Turning in homework done by somebody else
Incorrectly using information from a source
Many students commit plagiarism on purpose in order to get a better grade. If you're attending adult education classes, there's no reason to do something like this. However, it is also likely that you are accidentally committing plagiarism by not performing a few simple steps.
Intention won't matter much to your teacher, as it is hard to prove your intent. As a result, if a teacher catches you plagiarizing, whether intentionally or not, they are going to be very upset and may even fail you or kick you out of a class.
How Can You Avoid Accidental Plagiarism?
If you are worried about accidentally plagiarizing ideas, there are a few steps you can take to ensure it doesn't happen. The first is to paraphrase information by rephrasing it in a different way. After all, you can't directly quote every piece of information you use, so more generalized statements are easier to paraphrase.
However, if you want to actually directly quote somebody, you need to write the quote exactly as it appears (even changing a word is a major problem) and put quotes around the section. Then, you need to cite where you got the information (usually by including the last name of the author in parenthesis) and then include a bibliography at the end of your paper that lists all of your sources.
Note: even if you didn't directly quote a source, you should include it in your bibliography to ensure that your teacher understands where you got much of your information. Remember, a research paper requires you to use old information in a new way.
Presenting Information In New Ways
So how can you present old information in new ways in a research paper? First, you have to avoid coming up with a conclusion before doing your research: research papers don't work that way. Your conclusion must be supported by the information you find, not the other way around.
For example, say you're doing a research paper on World War II and you want to examine America's success in the air. You can't come up with the idea that America won every battle in which it was involved and then try to find sources to support it: instead, you need to use actual battle results and studies by historians to come to your own conclusion.
And then when it comes time to present your information, it must include interesting paraphrased information, direct quotes from experts, and careful citations backing you up. By following this approach, you will create a unique and engaging research paper with no plagiarism.