Improve research skills to tackle plagiarism

When it comes to academic and professional writing, there is no escaping the fact that it is nearly impossible to write a paper containing any adequate level of intelligence without consulting the work of scholars who have researched and written plenty in that particular field.

When it comes to academic and professional writing, there is no escaping the fact that it is nearly impossible to write a paper containing any adequate level of intelligence without consulting the work of scholars who have researched and written plenty in that particular field.

Truth is, unless your field of work or study is new to this universe, chances are someone else has carried out a certain level of research and documented their findings either electronically or through other means. At least, that is the very nature of the academic world we operate in.

Where am I going with this? Well, recently while I was at a gathering of members of the Rwandan Diaspora in the United Kingdom, Antoine Kabangana, a Rwandan student who is here on a government scholarship at the University of Birmingham mentioned something which I found rather captivating.

Mr Kabangana said: “I would like to thank the Government of Rwanda for affording me the opportunity to study here in the UK. However, I would also like to use this opportunity to ask education institutions in Rwanda to do their best and teach students research skills so that when they get a chance to come here they do not fall in the plagiarism trap.”

What the university student was trying to highlight was the lack of research skills amongst our education institutions. Many believe that students are not taught how to conduct research and that when some go abroad; they inevitably fall short of the academic standards expected of them.

For instance, Mr Kabangana insisted that whilst in Rwanda, he had never been taught how to provide full citation of academic sources or even how to properly reference the sources of the arguments and ideas he had used in several assignments.

He indicated that when completing an assignment, it is common practice for many students even at university level to copy and paste from online sources and call that work their own. However, when he arrived at the University of Birmingham, he soon discovered that things were different; plagiarism detection software such as ‘Tunitin’ was widely used in order to assist with the detection of possible plagiarism.

So, what is plagiarism and why is it important that students in Rwanda ought to be taught how to research properly? In academic circles, plagiarism is identifiedas taking of another person’s thoughts, words, results, judgements, ideas, or images and presenting them as your own.

And, in many instances, although some responsible students will always aim to produce their own work and most are keen to do all they can to verify that this is the case, asignificant number of students may aim to gain an unfair advantage by using someone else’s ideas, which in many cases can be considered academic misconduct.

It is also important to note that there exists a direct and important correlation between the correct acknowledgement and citing of the sources a student uses when writing an academic or work paper and it being considered a student’s own work.

Through developing referencing skills, it is believed that students learn how to credit quotations to their correct sources, acknowledge when they have referred to an idea which isn’t theirs and also point the reader in the direction of the book, article, image etc. that was consulted.

By being clear and upfront about where a student got their information from, students help their lecturers or supervisors to follow their arguments and to feel confident that the student in question has done the required reading, as well as demonstrated the honesty and integrity that underpins academic success.

There are various conventions of referencing; for instance, in some disciplines references are provided in footnotes. In the Social Sciences, the Harvard System is used, in which a brief reference is included in the text, while the full bibliographical reference is presented at the end.

Equally important, unlike in everyday conversations where a detailed analysis is not expected, in academic writing, the priorities are reversed. The reader is not interested in a writer’s personal opinion, but wants to know what the main issues to be considered are, and the various lines of argument that can be developed. Students must be able to put the reader in the position to form his/her own judgement based on the evidence and arguments presented. Claims or conclusion are less important than how you arrived at them – and the only way to do so is to develop research skills.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.

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