2. Note Taking

Accidental plagiarism is often a result of how you take notes. When we research a topic, the focus of our notes is recording any and all information that might be useful for the final paper. However, we often do not know whether we will actually use that piece of information until we are writing the paper — hours, days, or even weeks later. By the time we use our notes, we have usually forgotten exactly where the information came from and whether we had copied the author”s exact words, paraphrased her, or written our own interpretation of the information. If you didn’t indicate the source of the information as you took your notes, it is easy to overlook which notes are direct quotes and paraphrased material when you are writing your paper. Any of these oversights might result in unintentional plagiarism.

The following strategies can help you avoid problems when taking notes:

  • Always include a source’s bibliographic information with your notes from that source. Strategy
    Put the source information on the reverse side of a note card if you use cards or copy the title page if you are photocopying parts of a book.
  • Identify direct quotes in your notes. Strategy
    Put quotation marks around information that you have copied word-for-word from the source. You can also use a highlight color or some other code that identifies direct quotes. 
  • Close the book. Strategy
    Many sources recommend the best way to take notes is to close the book first. By not looking at your source you are more likely to write your own interpretation of the ideas in your own words. Once you have written your version, you can check the original source for accuracy and to make sure you did not accidentally use the author’s original wording. The result is a true paraphrase or summary.
  • Highlight true paraphrases in your notes. Strategy
    Underline, use highlighter pen, use a highlight color in a wordprocesser, or use some other method to identify which notes paraphrase the original source material so you can properly acknowledge it in your final paper.
  • Do not use close paraphrase in your notes.Strategy
     It is better to either copy your source’s exact words or to create a completely unique paraphrase of the author’s words. If you only slightly alter the author’s words it is difficult to safely use this closely paraphrased material later, in your paper. You run the risk of plagiarizing if you don’t remember which words were the author’s and which were yours.
  • Note the sources for common knowledge information. Strategy
     If your professor accepts as common knowledge information that appears in a number of sources, it is worth writing down all the sources where potential common knowledge items appear so you can objectively determine if they meet the criteria.

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Last updated 8/23/2012 by Sue Thompson
contact: sthompsn@csusm.edu