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Organizing Your Research

One of the best practices for preventing plagiarism starts long before you begin writing your paper or presentation.  It can be boiled down to this: keep your research organized.  By the time you start your paper, if you have complete citations attached to every "borrowed" idea or passage that you may use, you will be much less likely to commit plagiarism.  There will be no last-minute hunting for citations, which creates a temptation to either invent citation information or pass off an idea as your own.  Furthermore, if your research notes clearly indicate which ideas were paraphrased or quoted from other sources, you are less likely to accidentally use another's ideas or words without attribution.

There are two parts to this process.

1)    Recording your Citations

While doing your research, record the citation information for every source that you might use.  To learn how to locate citation information in online catalog or journal database records, see our guide to Understanding Citations.  Here is a checklist showing what you will need for most citation styles:

  • Book: Author(s) or editor(s), title, publisher, place of publication, and date of publication
  • Book Chapter: Book author(s) or editor(s), chapter author (if different from book author), book title, chapter title, publisher, place of publication, date of publication, and page range of the chapter
  • Article: Author, article title, journal/newspaper title, volume number, issue number, date of publication, page range of the article, and the name of the database where you found the full-text (if applicable)
  • Website: Author, title of webpage or article, title of website, publisher of website, date of publication (if available), URL, and the date when you accessed the website

Here are some tips to help you with the process of gathering citations:

  • Many research databases (including Geisel Library's online catalog and most journal databases) have tools that allow you to create, export, or email citations in the style of your choosing.  When you find a source that you may wish to utilize, use the database's citation creation tool to generate a citation in the needed style (MLA, APA, etc.), and paste it into a Word document.  But be warned: these tools are not 100% accurate, so you must still double-check that all the needed citation elements are in place.
  • Another option is to keep printouts of the catalog records (for books) or database records (for articles) of each source you intend to use.  These printouts will contain all the citation information that you need.
  • If you print out a journal article, write its complete citation at the top of the first page, using the citation information from the database.  Be sure to keep all your printed sources until you receive your final grade.
  • If you photocopy a chapter or section from a book, copy the book's title pages as well, since you will need the book's citation information.
  • Keep a written record of the search statements that you used in each database, so that you can re-locate your sources if necessary.
  • Try using EndNote, a software program that helps you store citations and generate footnotes and bibliographies in Word.  Saint Anselm College students can obtain a free copy of EndNote at the IT Help Desk.  For info, see our EndNote user guide.

2)    Taking Good Notes

While reading your sources, take notes on any passages that you might want to quote, paraphrase, or summarize in your paper.  This can be done either in a Word document or on individual notecards for each passage.  Since sloppy note-taking frequently leads to inadvertent plagiarism, try following the suggestions below:

  • When taking notes on a passage, don't write down the passage word-for-word unless you intend to quote it in your paper.  Take the time to write down in your own words the main ideas expressed in the passage.  You will learn more about how to paraphrase and summarize passages in the following sections of this tutorial.
  • If you do write down a passage word-for-word, either enclose it in quotation marks or write a big Q next to it, to remind yourself that this is a direct quotation and must be handled as such when writing your paper.  In some styles (such as APA), the in-text citation is different for quotes than for paraphrases.
  • For each note, jot down the author and page number of the corresponding passage in your source.  When it comes time to cite this idea in your paper, you can obtain the full citation from the information that you compiled in step one.
  • If you record your own original ideas in your notes, write "ME" next to them or give them special color-coding, to remind yourself that these ideas do not require citation.

Keep all your printed sources, research notes, outlines and drafts until you receive your final grade.  If you are accused of plagiarism, these items may be requested as evidence.  If you have followed the guidelines above, these documents may demonstrate your innocence!

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