Read something somewhere and you can end up wondering whether you have lifted entire bits of research directly from someone else without realising it.
Is it inspiration, or is it plagiarism? Here are our 6 tips on how to avoid plagiarism in your hard-worked PhD thesis and how to tell the difference.
1. Speak to your supervisor
Your direct report is the first person to speak to about your concerns. In fact, at regular intervals you should be discussing your research with your supervisor and showing them your papers. They can then use their expertise to make a judgement about whether something has already been done or said before.
2. Do your reading
Because of the limited time you have to get everything done during your PhD, it may be tempting to skim read everything, or just read paragraphs here and there, without actually taking in the whole paper. Because you are not properly processing and digesting the material, it can then be easy to regurgitate things you have read as your own without realising where you got them from.
If you take the time to read the whole paper in context, then you are more likely to remember the context around it and then remember that this is something you read, rather than something you thought of yourself.
Have you ever heard of “The Second Brain”? Maybe this could be a method to file your research. Get more infos here: The Second Brain site (no affiliate link).
Also I recommend reading the following article from Eva Keiffenheim: The Complete Guide for Building a Zettelkasten with RoamResearch
3. Use copyright checkers
Copyright checking software can be very sophisticated these days, and you can enter your own work into a database to find similar results. This can help you identify papers that you may have read and accidentally copied before you submit your paper.
4. Attend conferences
One way to make sure that you are not reproducing results of other people’s research is by attending conferences regularly, so you can keep up to date with who is doing what in your field of research. This way you will be more likely to associate a piece of work with its author, rather than attribute it to yourself!
5. Speak to peers and senior academics
Before you submit anything to anyone, it’s also a good idea to keep running your ideas past other researchers and senior academics in your field. This way you can get feedback from them and make sure you are correcting any issues, such as accidental plagiarism!
6. Cite your sources
Get in to the habit of scrupulously citing your sources. It is good to take inspiration and inform and shape your ideas by reading those of others and this is encouraged, as long as you are very clear in your papers where exactly you are getting your ideas from. Have you heard of Zotero? Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, annotate, cite, and share research. I strongly recommend it. You find the Zotero site here (no affiliate).
Because of the huge body of research that has gone before and is being added to every day, it is really difficult to be completely individual and you may well find that you reach the same conclusions as others in your PhD field of study, however if you can demonstrate that you have done everything you can to avoid directly plagiarising the work of others then you can at least rest easy knowing that you have played by the rules.
For further reading on writing: