All you wanted to know about Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

As promised in the blog about referencing and citation, this week, we bring you information and facts about academic integrity and how to avoid plagiarism.   

As a master’s student, expect yourself to be surrounded by deadlines to submit assignments, academic papers, and dissertations for most of your academic life (follow our #DILO – A Day in the life of an RKC student series to know more). Academic integrity is a crucial aspect of academic studies, and strict protocols must be followed to abide by the rules of academic writing.   

So, what is plagiarism? 

When one submits another person’s ideas, writings, words, images, or data as their own, it is termed plagiarism.   

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Source: https://mimiandeunice.com/2010/07/30/thief/ Author: Nina Paley, 1968 

Plagiarism is among the four most common forms of academic dishonesty, the other three being cheating, academic misconduct, and fabrication. While looking for ideas and information is good research, not giving proper credit for the work cited becomes plagiarism. It is easy not to recognise potential plagiarism in one’s writing. Here are some examples:  

  1. Using information from the internet is commonly considered public information. However, it is still required to be cited.   
  1. When one paraphrases (i.e. puts someone else’s ideas in their own words) and does not provide credit to the original idea.   
  1. When one sources information from reading material provided by the professor, it still needs to be cited.  This is considered poor academic practice though, as you need to demonstrate independent research, and go directly to the sources mentioned by the professors in their lectures, rather than cite the lectures themselves. 
  1. When one copies their own ideas, used in previously marked work, and submits the same material for a new paper. This is commonly known as self-plagiarism.   

How to avoid plagiarism?  

As complex as it may seem, plagiarism can be avoided by simply citing and referencing your work wherever necessary and giving due credit to the original ideas, theories, words, quotations, images, or graphs.   

It is essential to make sure an appropriate style of citing and referencing must also be applied. Commonly used styles include Harvard, APA, MLA, and Chicago. You can check out detailed information on the blog: Attribution, to avoid retribution: referencing and citations for academic writing.  

Don’t panic. We’ve got help!  

Studying for a masters, working full-time, juggling work-life-study balance itself seems daunting. Do not get lost in trying to find the correct way to present assignments and avoid plagiarism. There are various sources that you can use to ensure effective writing every time.  

  1. Access the electronic library through your University account – there is always a guide to academic writing, referencing, and tutorial support directly from librarians  
  1. Ask for help from the tutors and student support services, who can help you get unstuck and direct you towards the resources that can help 

I hope this prepares you well for authoring your academic papers and assignments.  If you are stuck or have any questions, our highly qualified, world-class faculty will guide you through using the correct methods and techniques to follow academic integrity. 

Attribution, to avoid retribution: referencing and citations for academic writing

In my previous blog, I wrote a step-by-step guide on how to write an effective abstract for academic papers. Continuing further in the same direction, this week I would like to discuss referencing and citations. As I mentioned earlier, writing an abstract is not rocket science, and neither are referencing and citating.  

Now, referencing is an important academic practice. But it becomes even more important when you are studying at University level. It is thus imperative to understand the correct way to reference and cite your sources in your master’s degree assignments, academic papers, or dissertation. This blog is your one-stop shop about what, how and where, style guides, and examples of referencing and citations.  

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Let’s begin! 

So, first things first, what is the difference between referencing and citations? 

While undertaking your masters’ studies, you will constantly hear from your professors to reference your work and cite the sources of your research and ideas.  

Referencing 

As the name suggests, referencing refers to the source of work that you used in your paper. The readers should be able to find and read for themselves the original source of information that one has read or considered in their academic piece.  

Citations 

Citations, on the other hand, are brief mentions of the author or the external source used in writing the paper. A citation is, in other words, an abbreviated reference. While both inform the reader of the sources of information used, there is a fine difference between a reference and a citation.  Here are some key differences between references and citations: 

Scope  

A reference is a complete record of the source that has been sought or cited in the paper.  

A citation is disclosing the source within the main body and thus is also referred to as an ‘in-text’ citation. It provides just basic information such as the authors’ names, year of publication, and perhaps the page number if a sizeable quote is provided.  

Placement  

References are listed at the end of the document, on a page having its own title (“List of references”, “References”, “Works cited”). 

Citations are presented within the body of the document where we speak of the ideas or results of the source we are citing..  

Format  

References provide the reader with information such as the authors’ names, the publication date, the title (of the book or article), page numbers, publisher and place of publishing, etc. 

A citation provides less information, such as the last names of the authors and the publication year, such that it does not disrupt the reading flow. 

Both references and citations give credit to the authors whose ideas have been discussed in your work, in addition to supporting or criticizing an argument. This is additionally critical to avoid plagiarism in academic writing (topic for another blog!). 

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Different styles of referencing and citating 

Different academic disciplines prefer specific referencing styles. In business programmes (such as the MBAs, MSc’s), you will often be asked to use Harvard or APA styles, whereas in Law programmes (LLM, LLB) you will most often be asked to use Oxford or OSCOLA. You should always check the programme handbooks and assignment briefs, and in doubt, with your instructor what referencing style they expect for the assignment or academic paper you are writing.   

The references should be regrouped on a new page at the end of the paper. This list gives the complete information to identify and locate all sources used in the paper. There should be a corresponding entry in the list of references for all in-text citations that were used. References typically follow an alphabetical order of authors’ last names but under certain styles the order of appearance will rather be used. 

Among the different styles used by different disciplines, here are the 6 most frequently used styles in writing academic papers, each with a very specific purpose they fulfil: 

  1. APA (6th or 7th Edition) 
  1. Harvard 
  1. Oxford (OSCOLA) 
  1. Chicago 
  1. Vancouver  
  1. MHRA  

The style guides specify the kind of information and how it should be displayed for different types of sources (books, articles, websites, images, ebooks, etc.) – ensuring consistency across not only your work, but across the entire field of study that uses that style. 

At first look, these may all seem complicated, and daunting, but there are tools that can help you manage your sources, references, and citations. 

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For example, Word has a tool called “Citations & Bibliography” which allows you to enter your sources in a database (“Manage Sources”), to insert in-text citations that are automatically updated if needed (“Insert citation”), and to generate your list of references (“Bibliography”) according to the specific style you need (“Style”). 

External tools also exist, such as Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, or CiteThemRight – which have pretty much the same functionalities – managing your references with one of these tools will save you a gigantic among of time and effort, so by all means, pick the one that works best for you and run with it. 

Examples 

I promised you some examples, so here goes: 

Harvard / APA styles 

In-text citation 

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2019), or Saunders et al. (2019), when the author’s names are part of the sentence, or (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2019) or (Saunders et al., 2019) when they are not. 

Reference list entry 

Saunders, M. N. K., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2019) Research methods for business students. Eighth Edition. New York: Pearson. 

Oxford style (OSCOLA) 

In-text citation 

OSCOLA uses numeric references, with the full reference given in a correspondingly numbered footnote. So, in your text, you would simply put a superscript number by inserting a footnote1 and then the footnote would contain the reference as: 

Mark NK Saunders, Philip Lewis and Adrian Thornhill, Research Methods for Business Students (Eighth Edition, Pearson 2019). 

Reference list entry 

Saunders MNK, Lewis P and Thornhill A, Research Methods for Business Students (Eighth Edition, Pearson 2019) 

Note the difference between the footnote reference and reference list entry – in the footnote, you give the author names in “firstname, lastname” format, whereas in the reference list you give it in “lastname, f.” format. 

If this looks complicated, it is! 😊 Which is why I reiterate my advice to use a reference management tool – whichever one works for you. 

Hope this prepares you well for writing your academic paper or assignments.  If you are stuck or have any questions, our highly qualified, world class faculty will guide you through using the correct methods and techniques for referencing and citations.  

Step-by-step: how to write an effective abstract for academic papers

As a Master-level student you will be asked to write abstracts for your papers, or for your dissertation. Writing an abstract is not rocket science, but it is somewhat different from “regular” writing. I have summed up here advice from professors and librarians on how to write an effective abstract for academia. A step-by-step approach to writing abstracts is proposed, and this should enable you to write effective abstracts.

If you are still reading, my first paragraph is a good abstract. Yay!

Why are abstracts important?

In academic writing the use of “abstracts” is particularly important, for practical reasons. With the amount of reading one needs to do when studying/researching, being able to quickly tell what a given paper is about (before the paywall) gives abstracts a crucial value.

Writing is an integral part of our professional and personal lives. Every day we write texts, emails, letters, applications, comments on social media, blogs, etc. Professionally, we may be required to communicate via email, reports, blog posts and articles, or team chat (more so since the pandemic started).

There may be a few commonalities within each type of writing, but each writing type brings its own format, tone, formalities (formal or informal), and target audiences.

You are probably well versed with the personal and professional writing styles. Still, as a student, you will encounter an entirely different type of writing – academic writing. Academic writing is a more formal style of writing, used in universities and scholarly publications, typically involving literature reviews, case studies, and application of theory in “practice”. A subject for another blog post, so stay tuned.

For the typical master’s level student at Robert Kennedy College, academic writing is a new form of writing. From the module assignments to the dissertation at the end of the programme, the students are expected to excel in this writing style.

What are abstracts?

The abstract is typically a single 200 to 300 words paragraph, “selling” the rest of the paper/article they describe to the interested reader. The abstract is not, formally speaking, part of the paper it describes, which is why it normally appears before the table of contents and is not listed in it.

The abstract must provide information on why the paper should be read in the first place – so why the research is important. For assignments, where students are encouraged to practice abstract writing in view of the dissertation, the abstracts typically try to convince the markers that the brief was addressed in its entirety. If you can imagine Jack Nicholson, do it: “the brief, the whole brief, and nothing but the brief”.

The abstract must also provide information on what was done, and how. For a dissertation, the student will concisely describe the research methodology. For an assignment paper, the same (“I have critically reviewed literature on X, Y, and Z. I have then analysed a case study on A using B and C models/frameworks, etc.”).

The abstract must also give a glimpse into what was found. Not full details, but enough to entice an interested reader to click-through to the full article. For dissertations and assignments (where the reader does not have a choice, but must read the full paper anyway), you want to reassure them (they are typically marking your work) that you have not only addressed the brief, but also found some interesting things.

The final function of the abstract is to provide a take-home message. A concise and factual conclusion that the reader can use as justification for their reading the paper in full.

What abstracts are not

In our work with mature students like yourself, the most common confusions arise between abstracts and executive summaries, and between abstracts and introductions.

Abstracts are not executive summaries

Executive summaries are a business-environment construct, whose purpose is to give the reader (executives, hence the name) enough information to make an informed decision, without having to read the full report/paper. Unlike abstracts, executive summaries are much longer (one to two pages), are much more structured (with internal headings much like this post, allowing executives to orient themselves within the summary), and must provide clear action points/decisions to be made after the supporting arguments have been presented.

Abstracts are not introductions

Although there are similarities between the two constructs, abstracts are not introductions either.

An introduction goes deeper into the WHAT (what your topic is, or what you are addressing in the paper) and the WHY (why is this important? Background context) of your work.

It will also lay out your own stance or focus given the context and the topic, and provide a “map” to your paper, describing what each section of it discusses. The introduction is typically written in the future (“will discuss X in section 1, etc.”) whereas the abstract is typically written in the past tense, or present, but never future.

How to write an effective introduction – a topic for another blog post!

Conclusion

Now that we know what an abstract is, and what it is not, here are the five steps to writing a compelling abstract that I promised in the … abstract 😊

1. Define what your work is about: provide a precise statement of the problem

2. Give some background information: provide enough background information for your study or research that describes both the main topic and the problem.

3. What and how you did what you did: summarize the research method & designs you employed, stating the key techniques used.

4. Findings: describe your findings. This part attracts the most attention as the reader is intrigued to know about the results.

5. Conclusion: Provide a brief and precise conclusion. An overstated conclusion can mislead the readers, so do not overkill.

Not everyone is born with a flair for academic writing, but, like many things in life, this can be learnt and, with experience, can also be improved over time. All you require is some guidance and practice.

Our highly qualified, world-class faculty provide you with in-depth knowledge of the course while guiding you on how to best write your assignments and prepare for the dissertation. Talk to our education advisors and enrol today for the online master’s programme that is closest to your interests.