Plagiarism Prevention and Note Taking

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By Joni Boone

In my role as a tutor, I speak with students daily about how to incorporate research into their papers and projects and how to avoid plagiarism. Lack of citation and paraphrasing skills are the two issues that seem to plague students the most.  The traditional methods of working on these skills are paraphrasing practice and looking at drafts to discover where citations are missing.

But citation and paraphrasing problems do not start in the draft.  They start during the note taking phase, a phase that, in the past, I haven’t emphasized with students.  Instead of focusing on the note taking process, I tend to focus on the results of what happens when that process is sloppy or nonexistent.

So I began wondering, how are students taking notes these days from research?  Or are they taking notes? And why do I not begin the avoiding plagiarism discussion with their notes instead of their drafts?

Perhaps the note taking process doesn’t have to be a distinct stage of the writing process.  Writing can be, after all, a messy amalgam of discovery, drafting, revision, and editing. Even I have abandoned my old system of handwritten stacks of note cards.

Even though my personal note taking system has been updated a bit, the importance of that system hasn’t diminished. When I research, I rely heavily on the note taking process to think through the significance of the research, its place within my own discussion, and the best method of presenting the research in my writing.  I’m wondering how all of this would occur when one goes straight from source to draft

The more I talk with students about their note taking process, the more I realize that many do not have one. There is no separate Word document or other distinct space for notes. Some are simply copying and pasting sections of text from sources into those drafts and inserting a citation, and others are paraphrasing or patchwriting as they draft.  Missing are both a distinct space for notes and opportunities for critical thinking.

To explore this phenomenon further, I plan to begin asking students to show me their notes in the future, as a way to get them to think about how and why they are using a source and as a way to teach them preventative measures to avoid plagiarism.

Does this topic resonate with you in your teaching and tutoring experiences?  If so, how do you approach the connection between note taking and avoiding plagiarism with students?

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