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How to Write a Paper Fast Without Plagiarism or Academic Dishonesty

Spend a few minutes reading this article, and you'll save a few hours whipping up an original paper. Soon, you'll know how to write several pages per hour without pasting material from the Internet or being accused of academic dishonesty.

Try This Exercise: Paraphrase the Abstract, Introduction, and Conclusion of a Recent Article


In almost all 'professional' or 'scholarly' articles, the key information is all right there in the introduction. The most significant terms are the rich ones, particularly nouns, adjectives, and verbs. You may have noticed that peer-reviewed journal articles almost always can be summed up in a single paragraph… or even in a single sentence. Many of them are about a single, simple idea that is the focus of empirical research, and the article is a 'research article' that explains the background, the reason the researchers decided to conduct a study, how it was designed, and what results they observed.

Avoiding Plagiarism

In fact, most peer-reviewed journal articles have an 'abstract' which is a paragraph of about 100-120 words to explain the whole article. Find an article with an abstract, and you'll probably notice that the abstract contains all the same information as the article's introductory paragraph(s). That is because peer-reviewed journals the scrutinized by so many other scholars that they need to write a whole article just to support one idea. It's also the reason why many of these articles are boring enough to make you want to scratch your own eyes out and die in your chair.

Some of the most enthusiastic students fall asleep at their desks as they try to read entire research articles, but the veterans of academia know better than to read entire articles unnecessarily. They simply do not need to know the details. In fact, the reason most peer-reviewed articles include an abstract is to make it possible for scholars to get the most important information without reading the whole article.

Therefore, I challenge you to read the introductory paragraph of an article and write a sentence about the main idea of that paragraph. If you have trouble, go back and read it again. The last sentence of the first paragraph often tells the main idea of the whole article. Then, skip to the conclusion and write a sentence about the 'findings' (if it is a research article) or the author's comments about the implications of the idea that is being put forth in the article. Too many students doubt their own intelligence because they cannot trek through 30 pages about the details of an original research study in a professional journal; the truth is that no one can to it unless they are trying to replicate the study, refute it, or achieve some other purpose that involves actually memorizing the details of the research study on which the findings are based.

If you read the introduction, you probably will find all the information you need in order to cite the article in your paper. The introduction will explain the topic, the reason for its importance, the type of quantitative or qualitative research that was carried out, the findings of the research, the implications, and even the questions raised by the findings and the limitations of the study. This information is not only enough to make it possible for you to write about the main idea of the article but also enough to make it possible for you to use 'critical analysis' of the article.

In the section above, I challenged you to write a sentence about the main idea expressed in the abstract, introduction, and conclusion of an article in a professional journal. Actually, though, it is possible to write about more than just the main idea. You can paraphrase almost every sentence of the introduction paragraph and the conclusion paragraph. Now, keep reading to see the most important strategies for quickly cranking out an original paper -- a paper that is already complete and needs only to be uncovered by a savvy scholar like you!

Many Definitions of Plagiarism


You should be mindful of several different types of plagiarism that are commonly understood among scholars. According Princeton University, plagiarism is the act of using information acquired from someone else's writing and not using a proper citation to attribute credit for the information. But many variations exist, and circumstances surrounding the act of plagiarism can significantly affect the possible consequences -- and the possible solutions for a situation where you are accused.

The first is the most serious kind: Knowingly using other people's ideas and writing your paper in a way that expressed those ideas as your own. If you mention some information that is 'common knowledge' or if you give your own opinion about something, it is not considered plagiarism. Most professors agree that if you commit this infraction it is absolutely inexcusable. This form of plagiarism includes not only cases where a student copies ideas from a published article but also where a student copies a paper written by another student.

A second type of plagiarism is somewhat excusable, especially at the undergraduate level. When you type your paper and accidentally use your MLA or APA citations inadequately, your professor might tell you that you attributed the information correctly in one paragraph but still require another citation in another paragraph. Example: APA style documentation requires that even if you you use a citation to give credit to the source of information one paragraph of your paper and then continue to discuss that information in the next paragraph, you must use a citation in both paragraphs.

Similarly, if you include information in your paper and mistakenly cite an incorrect source that is yet another form of plagiarism. It can be a minor or major offense. Professors will probably understand that it was an honest mistake, only a minor offense, if you accidentally misunderstand the publication you try to cite and fail to cite the true source of information. HOWEVER, if you decide to be sneaky and write a lot of material that you pull out of thin air, unsubstantiated, and then add citations to random articles that may or may not support your assertions, that is absolutely going to be seen as cheating. To be honest, and perhaps a bit cynical, I must admit that I do not believe most professors care enough to actually find the books and articles you cite and search them to see if they really substantiate your claims. But heaven help you if you get a professor who does check, because there is no lie in the world that is creative enough to persuade a professor that you somehow cited fake references by accident. And if your professor went to the trouble of checking your references and then finds out that you tried to trick her in this way... chances are, she will unleash the fury of hell down upon you.

The last type of plagiarism to be discussed here is the kind that occurs when a student pastes content from the Internet and fails to use " " marks to designate it as a direct quote. This is the type of plagiarism that will be flagged by a plagiarism checker such as Turnitin.com. It could be accidental, but in most cases it is done because the student is too lazy to paraphrase and wants to get through the paper as quickly as possible. Check carefully to make sure you do not leave any unoriginal content in your paper.

What if I Am Accused of Plagiarism? A Solution for Honest Students


Once upon a time, a student turned in a paper that had a lot of unoriginal content pasted from articles that could easily be found online. Her professor brought the hammer down, accusing her of academic fraud and recommending her for expulsion from her degree program. She called me for advice, and with a shaky voice she explained that she could not stop crying long enough to think about what to do. I calmed her down and asked questions to find out all the facts of the situation. The solution appeared when she mentioned that she was in a class that required her to submit several rough drafts for review prior to completing a final draft. She called the professor and told him: "I would never plagiarize, and I worked hard on my paper. The unoriginal content was in my submission because I ACCIDENTALLY UPLOADED THE WRONG DRAFT."

Yes, it is quite possible for a student to accidentally submit unoriginal material if s/he saved multiple versions of the file with her paper. She pasted content from the Internet while assembling her paper, as we all do, but in one of her drafts she had not yet paraphrased the content and added a citation. The professor was glad to know that she had simply selected the wrong file when uploading to her class website! Maybe the professor was gullible, maybe he really believed her, and maybe she really was telling the truth. The world will never know.

There is no way for me (or her professor) to know if she really uploaded the wrong draft or if she simply lied to cover up her academic fraud. Any student who pastes content from the Internet can claim that they just uploaded the wrong draft -- a draft that still had content that was not properly paraphrased and cited. That does not mean it is okay to trick professors by pasting content from the Internet and then claiming the wrong file was uploaded; even if you are not expelled from school, you will still need to complete the paper properly and resubmit. It is useless to try to get away with pasting content from the Internet, because in this age of digital learning all professors use plagiarism checkers and will easily notice unoriginal content.

But it is important for you to know this solution you can use if you are 'caught' plagiarizing when in fact you may have simply uploaded the wrong draft. If you use this solution, you must be prepared to quickly submit the correct, 100% original draft as proof that you really did complete your assignment in a sincere way.

All Academic Writing Is Unoriginal


Do you really think anyone can come up with a new idea now that humans have been writing down their thoughts for so many centuries? No, there are no new ideas, and if you try to write offer an original thought you'll be accused of making an unsubstantiated assertion.

Professors who assign research papers don't want new ideas; they want ideas taken from recent, professional journal articles. So, the first thing to do is find an article from your school's library database and make sure it was published within the past year or two. Make sure it's an article you understand, and make sure it is at least a little bit interesting to you. Most importantly, make sure it's an article from a professional academic journal.

How do you know if an article is from a professional (peer-reviewed) academic journal? The easiest way to make sure you are using a strong professional journal article as the starting point for your paper is to use a filter when you search your database of books and articles. Your school library might have a database that enables you to search only scholarly journal articles. If you are searching the Internet instead of a database, you can still do a search that brings you to the articles you need by using search terms that include the term "journal articles". So, for example, if you are a student of hospitality and tourism you might want to search Google for these terms: tourism, "journal articles." You'll find a lot of options, and many of them will be resources that ask you to pay a fee for access. That is why it's ordinarily best to use your school library database.

But what if you have already found an article and need to determine whether it is appropriate for use? If an article is a 'scholarly', peer-reviewed, professional journal article, it is likely to have the word journal in the title (example: The Journal of Social Work Education). Another giveaway is when you see a word like 'quarterly' or 'review' (example: Academy of Management Review). These terms are clues, but they can be misleading. If you think your article comes from a professional journal, it's easy to make sure by simply Googling the name of the publication. So if you found an article from the publication called Academy of Management Review you can search Bing or Google and, sure enough, you'll find a ton of search results that describe it as a peer-reviewed academic journal.

On the other hand, if you find an article you like and check to see the name of its publisher you might find words that raise an alarm in your mind: "This is not a professional journal article!" Such words include "News", "Today," and "Magazine". Magazines and news publications are 'popular' sources. The kinds of sources you need are 'scholarly' (intended for students and academics) and 'professional' (intended for professional people who read to stay current in their fields).

How to Paraphrase without Plagiarizing: Four Easy Steps


Let's make an important distinction right away: Passing a plagiarism checker is not the same as being innocent of plagiarism. That means you can run your paper through Turnitin and it might spit out a score that says your paper is original – even if you have stolen all your ideas from books and articles written by other people. The plagiarism checker tells you if you have used combinations of words that are identical to those found in other papers, but it does not tell you if your ideas are original. The technology is not that advanced yet! And besides, there is no such thing as a new idea.

Try this right now, just to see how easy it is: Paste a paragraph that you want to rewrite (i.e. paraphrase) into your word program, and 1) Add a citation in the citation style required by your professor, 2) Use the synonym function in your word program, 3) Change the sequence of words and/or the structure of sentences, and 4) Elaborate to add originality and reach your requires word/page count.

1. Add a citation. This is the easy part. If you paste a paragraph from "Understanding Leadership" by W.C.H. Prentice, be sure to put his name at the end of the paragraph in parenthesis, before the period, like this (Prentice). That's how you do it in MLA style. If your professor requires APA, you need to include the date as well (Prentice, 1961). Adding a citation is what makes you innocent of plagiarism. It is a way of attributing an idea to somebody. That means giving them credit for the idea instead of letting your reader think you came up with it on your own.

2. Use the SYNONYM function in your word program. Paraphrasing is all about passing the plagiarism checker. So let's first talk about pasting paragraphs and changing them so they will pass a plagiarism checker. Try this great trick if you have Microsoft Word or a similar program: Paste a paragraph that you want to paraphrase, and then start right-clicking the important words. By 'important' I mean the words that are the most unique and meaningful. Skip right past the silly little words, such as the parts of speech called articles ('a', 'the'), the prepositions ('before', 'to', 'in'), and the conjunctions ('and', 'but', 'or').

You know what I mean! The important words are the colorful ones especially nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

When you right-click a word, your word program probably gives you an option to have synonyms suggested. Synonyms, as you know, are words with similar meaning. So, when I right click the word 'know' in the sentence above and select 'synonyms' I get options like these: recognize; discern; distinguish; [are] familiar with. When I right-click the word 'mean' I get suggestions like these: imply; suggest; indicate. I can simply left-click the synonym I like and watch my word program automatically transform the word into a new one.

Use this synonym trick on all nouns, verbs, and adjectives in the line above, and you might transform it to: You are familiar with what I suggest! The significant terms are the rich ones, particularly nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Already the sentence is very different. But you can finish making it unique by changing the sequence and structure.

3. Change the sequence and structure. In just a few seconds, you transform an unoriginal sentence into one that is totally original. This will enable you to beat a plagiarism checker, such as Turnitin.com or WriteCheck. However, you are still guilty of plagiarism if you do not attribute the idea to the author of the stuff you are paraphrasing. So, you add their name in parentheses at the end of the sentence, or cite them by using whatever citation style is required in your class.

4. Elaborate and add words to change the content. When you are reading a sentence pasted from the Internet, it is very easy to think of words you can toss into the sentence to make it unique. This is not only an easy way to beat a plagiarism checker but also an easy way to fill pages and meet your required word-count.

Good News! Your Paper Is Already Finished, and There Is No Plagiarism!


It's already there, and perhaps you just can't see it. But use this strategy, and you can clear away the clutter to reveal a complete, original paper in no time at all.

Let's say you are assigned to write a research paper about the tourism industry in Phuket, Thailand. (Yes, there is really a popular tourist destination in Thailand called Phuket. I agree that it is a hilarious name for a city.) Maybe you have no interest in the Thailand's tourism industry, but KEEP READING because the whole point of this article is to prepare you to write about stuff that does not interest you. Follow these steps:

1. Search your school library database — or some other database of professional journal articles — for these terms: Phuket, tourism, "literature review" (be sure to put " " around that term so the search results only include the full term with those two words together.

2. Choose 5 articles with titles that clearly tell you they are about the topic you are supposed to be researching. Check to see if they are easy to understand, and check to see if each of them has a section called "Literature Review".

3. Paste all 5 articles into a word document, and include the reference list at the end of each article.

4. Delete everything except the articles' Introductions, Conclusions, Literature Reviews, and reference lists. What is leftover will be a lot of great, meaningful content all about your topic.

5. Start reading, and whenever you feel inspired, type a few sentences about some of the concepts discussed in the material. That material is like the raw material one might use to build a house. Nobody can build a house without raw material, and nobody can write a research paper without raw material.

6. Each time you type a few sentences about a concept from the pastes material, include the citation. So, if you type sentences about a concept from an Introduction or Conclusion of one of the articles, cite the author of the article. And if you type sentences about concepts from a Literature Review it's even easier because the author will already have an in-text citation right there waiting for you to use. Then, delete the pasted material from which you took the concept and citation.

7. Keep working through the pasted material, typing sentences and adding citations. If you come to some content that is confusing or not applicable, just delete it. Every time you type some sentences and add a citation, do a line break to keep all your sets of sentences separate from one another.

8. When you get to the end of your first article, take a look at the reference list. Use CTRL+F (of COMMAND+F if you are using a Mac) to 'find' the name of the author of each source on the list. If you can't find it, that means you didn't cite that source so you can delete it from the list.

9. Continue this way until you have gleaned original material from each of the 5 pasted articles and deleted all reference list entries that you did not cite.

10. Look at your brilliant collection of sets of sentences, and see what the hell your paper is all about. You might want to change the sequence of your sets of sentences. Obviously, it will all be about tourism in Phuket, but you should be able to find some great, interesting insight that you gain from everything you wrote. Explain that insight by writing an introduction paragraph at the top of the document.

11. Go through again, and add a paragraph topic sentence to the beginning of each set of sentences, so that it suddenly is transformed into a meaningful paragraph rooted in a topic sentence. The topic sentence should tell the main idea of the set of sentences, and it should somehow be related to the MAIN IDEA you explained in the introduction.

12. Use cut/paste to move all the reference lists to the end of the document. Use your word program's alphabetization function to put them in order.

13. Go check again to MAKE SURE THERE IS NO PASTED (i.e. unoriginal) CONTENT IN THE DOCUMENT (Except for the reference list entries).

14. Look at the introductory paragraph and the paragraph topic sentences one more time to remind yourself of the main idea of the paper, and type a conclusion paragraph that reflects on the main idea and adds some interesting final thought.

Apply these fourteen steps next time you have to write a paper. You might spend some extra time to refer to this article as you work, but you will save much more time by crafting the paper in an efficient way. Make the best use of your resources -- the word program, the Internet, and the strategies in this article. Never again writhe around with a paper you don't know how to write, and never again feel the need to use unoriginal content or paste without paraphrasing. You have a whole Internet full of great content, and it is easier now than ever to write a great paper without any plagiarism or academic dishonesty.