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Organise and structure your work in your own way

Taking notes that paraphrase the views and opinions of the authors that you read is often the first stage of the research undertaken for any piece of written work. However, if your own writing consists largely of a string of paraphrases from a number of different writers, or an almost exact copy of the sequence of another writer's ideas and the logic of his/her argument, you may be seen to be plagiarising, even if you acknowledge the sources of your information. This type of plagiarism is probably the most common that is found in undergraduate work.


Two further 'extracts' from hypothetical essays illustrate this point. In this example the essay topic is about the value of different types of assessment procedures. Student C has read a number of books on his topic, and in the paragraphs below he has quoted some of them in his discussion of examinations. In these examples the sources quoted have been invented for illustrative purposes, and so reference details have not been included.


An experiment carried out by Smith (1997) showed that students do better in exams that contribute to their final grade than in those that are merely 'pass and proceed'; this showed that motivation is an important factor in improving students' examination performance. Patel (1995) believes that students should be given past papers to increase their confidence, but Jones (1998) thinks that this can lead to students revising only those topics that come up regularly. Essay-type questions are better than short-answer questions because they test creative thinking and not just memory (McPherson, 1997)

Student C's writing is essentially a string of facts, ideas and opinions from others and there is very little evidence of his own contribution to the topic. He seems only to be passing on the views of others without any critical analysis of the arguments or evidence presented by his sources. Although he has referenced his sources, he has effectively plagiarised their ideas. This type of plagiarism though not at all desirable, is not deliberate academic cheating, as there is no attempt here to claim the ideas as his own. However, Student C would not get a very good grade for his essay. Now consider the extract from Student D's essay:


Recent published research on the effectiveness of examinations as an assessment technique has highlighted the importance of motivation as a driving force (for example, Patel, 1995; Smith, 1997; Jones 1998). Patel and Jones disagree about whether or not past papers can be useful in helping students, but I would agree with Patel that without some clear examples of at least the types of questions that are likely to be asked, students are not able to plan an effective revision strategy. What is important, though, is not just the context in which examinations are used, but the format of the examinations themselves. McPherson (1997) argued against short-answer questions, which he saw as only capable of testing memory and not creative thinking. In his criticism of this type of examination, he has failed to acknowledge the importance of providing opportunities for students to develop a wider range of written communication skills than those developed by essay writing. The ability to write briefly and effectively is a very valuable skill for future employment; discursive essays are a form of writing that is very rarely used in the world of work.

Student D has used the same sources, but has provided a much more sophisticated analysis, and, while building on the work of her sources, has taken the ideas and discussion forward. Her own contribution to the topic is very clear in this piece. Student D will undoubtedly have gained a much higher grade for her work than Student C.