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History Research Guide


According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, plagiarism is “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person”. The online Oxford Dictionaries define plagiarism as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”. In the field of history, you are always dealing with other people’s ideas and publications. It is advisable, inevitable even, that you use other people’s words and ideas. However, you need to consistently and accurately attribute these words and ideas to their original author. Be wary of the slippery slope from quoting and paraphrasing to plagiarizing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

To avoid plagiarism, include a reference to the source (either directly in the text and/or in a note) each and every time you quote, paraphrase or use someone else’s ideas or facts. Create a note

  • when you quote someone’s written or spoken words verbatim; this requires you to place the quotation between quotations marks or set it off from the text in some other (typographical) way (e.g. block quotations are indented from the left);
  • when you paraphrase someone’s written or spoken words;
  • when you use someone else’s arguments or ideas;
  • when you incorporate facts or factual overviews that are not common knowledge.

How to Prevent Plagiarism

  • Make sure that you ‘stay in charge’ of your own text and that you incorporate other people’s material into your own argument. Often, plagiarism is a consequence of being too dependent on the sources you use and the language used in those sources. Ensure that your own argument and your own ideas win out over other people’s words and ideas. Stay in control of the structure and choice of words in your text.
  • Always use quotation marks when citing someone else’s words, phrase or clause. Do this even when you are just jotting down a note or summarizing someone’s ideas, taking care to also write down the author’s name and the source. Plagiarism is frequently caused by (inadvertently) confusing information you have gathered from other sources with your own thoughts.
  • Always use your own words when taking notes or phrasing other people’s ideas. Try to use your own words for what you have read at the earliest possible stage, so immediately after reading the information. This also applies when you translate a foreign writer’s ideas into English. If you find this hard to do, try reading a paragraph or a section and then summarize it without looking at the text. Then check whether your summary covers the content of the original.
  • Always use quotation marks when you copy and paste from a digital source, even if you are ‘just temporarily’ putting it in your notes. Always copy the URL or some other source information from the source and add it to the copy-pasted text in your notes.
  • When paraphrasing, take care not to change just a few words. It is much better practice to rephrase the whole idea in your own words. Do not forget to compare your own words to the original.