Writing Strategies

Lecturers set assignments to assess your skills and understanding of the concepts, theories and issues within a course. Your understanding is judged by your ability to speak and write about them in your own words, based on what you have read.  For this reason it is not sufficient to put together an assignment by copying directly from one or more sources. Similarly, a few sentences of your own between copied passages does not demonstrate an understanding of the topic and the ability to communicate that understanding. 

The most effective way of avoiding plagiarism is to write in well-developed paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a clear main point, which reflects your individual response to the question or task. The main point should always be written in your own words and should be sufficiently general to allow you to explain, elaborate and illustrate it using research.  When you explain or analyse the main idea you will need to refer to the research literature either by paraphrasing or by using direct quotes.

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing means putting into your own words another person's ideas you have heard or read. This skill is used extensively at university and must include acknowledgement of the source of the information.  Paraphrasing is more valued by lecturers than quoting directly because it requires more intellectual effort on your part and when done successfully demonstrates an understanding of the material you have read. 

When you paraphrase try to work at the paragraph level rather than individual sentences. Read the paragraph that contains the idea you think will be useful to explain or illustrate your main point, put the text aside then write out the idea without referring to the original. 

The following paragraph illustrates the use of paraphrasing by a student:

Mandatory sentencing aims to reduce crime by preventing offenders from continuing to offend but critics claim it is ineffective.  Mandatory sentencing is based on the assumption that individuals who have already committed a crime are most likely to offend in the future.  Imprisoning known offenders is therefore one way to prevent them from continuing with their criminal behaviour (Sherman et al, 1998). However, high rates of repeat offending show that imprisonment does not have a significant reforming effect (Forer 1994, 72).  In terms of reconvictions, a custodial sentence is no more effective than a non-custodial sentence (Walker 2000, 44). Further, critics of mandatory sentencing argue that if imprisonment is to be pursued as a sentencing policy, judges are in a better position than politicians to identify offenders who will continue to offend because judges can make a prediction based on evidence about an individual offender's background and the circumstances of the offence (Roche 1999, 3).

Notice that:

  • The first sentence contains the main point, which is in two parts;
  • The main point is written in the student's own words and does not use paraphrasing or direct quotes;
  • Subsequent sentences draw upon the research literature to elaborate on, (add to), the idea that mandatory sentencing is a way of reducing crime.  All the ideas in this part of the paragraph are referenced; 
  • Paraphrasing has been used instead of direct quotes:
    • where a particular idea has been taken from a particular page, the page number is supplied with the reference; and
    • where a more general finding has been included the page number is omitted.
  • At no point were the exact words or phrases used so quotation marks were not necessary.

Direct Quotes

If you quote an author word for word, then this is termed a direct quote.  It doesn't matter whether it is a phrase, sentence or paragraph, you will need to provide reference from which it was taken. Direct quotations are usually indicated in the text of an assignment by using quotation marks around the text or by writing the text in italics. Refer to Referencing Guides for specific details on different styles of referencing direct quotations.

The following paragraph, illustrates the use of direct quotes by a student:

The individual rights approach makes individual freedom more important than the welfare of particular groups in society. Advocates of individual rights argue that individuals possess natural rights which should not be restricted by governments or other individuals (Jones 2002). According to Heywood (2004, p. 259), in contemporary liberal democratic societies, rights are frequently interpreted as freedom of choice. This choice is limited when governments intervene in individuals' lives through such measures as taxation and setting minimum wages and conditions. Advocates of individual rights argue that there is a need to "limit the powers and responsibilities of governments in order to protect the natural freedom of the individual" (Ryan, Parker and Hutchings 1999, p.234).

More examples of direct and indirect quotes, paraphrasing and summarising are also available.