Written by Guest Author Daniel K. Wentzel studying BSc Honours in Computing, Information Systems, at University of South Africa (UNISA)
As a student, I have been through the “school of hard-knocks”, after being penalized quite severely by my lecturer after submitting my paper through the “turnitin” site <http://turnitin.com>.
So, firstly, I would say to any student that you make use of your institution’s writing centre, if one is available. If you do not have access to one, there are many third-party sites, universities and colleges that offer online writing skill guidance, for example: WriteCheckTM < http://en.writecheck.com/> or the The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison <http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/index.html>. A GoogleTM search on “How do you avoid plagiarism?” will also reveal a plethora of sites that can offer assistance.
Secondly, I would say, practice and master the craft of summarizing and paraphrasing. Specifically, you need to be aware of the following dangers of “word-for-word” and “patchwork” paraphrasing (The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin – Madison 2014).
Here are some guidelines that you can use to help you to “legitimize” your writing:
1. Read a passage until you fully understand it in its entirety. Reread as many times as is necessary.
2. Once you understand what the author is trying to say, write it down in your own words, ideas and phrases.
3. Now, think about how you would explain your new found knowledge to a close friend, relative or loved one. Once you begin to express the thoughts “in your own words”, then half the battle is won. It is only when you can make something your own that you can really begin to understand it and make it part of your everyday conversation. This is part of the critical thinking process.
4. You need to be careful to choose and summarize only the facts that will help you make the argument that you wish to make. Below are some suggestions when you write:
a. Check your spelling by using a tool that provides spelling suggestions.
b. Check your grammar by using a tool that provides grammar suggestions.
c. Check word choice by using a tool that provides word choice suggestions. A good thesaurus is always a great help. There are also many online thesaurus and dictionaries sites that can be helpful here.
d. Check your phrasing by using a tool that measures bad phrasing and provides a bad phrase or trite score.
e. Check your vocabulary words and use a tool that provides a vocabulary score. If you struggle with your vocabulary, then use a vocabulary builder to help you strengthen this aspect of your conversation and writing.
f. Check your style by measuring transitional phrases. Use a tool that provides you with a transitional word score. Transitional phrases may be used in multiple places in a text: between paragraphs, sentences or sentence parts, and within sentence parts. These words and phrases fall under a few grammatical types:
i. conjunctions: but, provided, and, although;
ii. prepositional phrases: in addition to, in conclusion; and
iii. adverbs: also, however, and nevertheless
5. Please remember that when you are using (and only if you have to) a lengthy direct quotation from an author’s original text within your writing to indent it, or frame it within a text box using the appropriate in-text citation as well as the concomitant bibliographic referencing and that you also need to place quotation marks around the quotation.
6. You should also ensure consistency with your chosen or specified referencing style.
7. Also, when using what is commonly referred to as “shared language” or the common vernacular of your chosen discipline, remember that direct quotations of phrases from the author’s original text within your paraphrase do not need to have quotation marks around them. Two approaches are sometimes used here, either underlining or placing the shared language in parenthesis.
8. You need to give yourself as much time as is available to you for this level of writing. It is not something that is to be left for last. Beware of the “Parkinson’s Law Syndrome”. “Failing to plan” here, is most definitely “planning for failure”.
9. Finally, remember the three P’s of paraphrasing: Practice, Practice, Practice