General Information About Using Authority and Proper Attribution
Readings about effective use of authority, proper attribution, and how to recognize and avoid plagiarism.
- Using Authority
- Proper Attribution to Authority
- What Does "Plagiarism" Mean?
- How to Recognize and Avoid Plagiarism
Using authority effectively is one of the tools that successful lawyers use to communicate clearly, thoroughly, and persuasively. Through practice, you will gain confidence and competence in using authority appropriately. What you must understand is that “[l]egal writing is citation oriented, meaning it insists that words and ideas be documented.” Chad Baruch, Legal Writing: Lessons from the Bestseller List, 43 Tex. J. of Bus. L. 593, 608 (2009). In fact, attorneys rely “almost exclusively” on authority to convey their legal analysis and arguments. Legal Writing Institute, Law School Plagiarism v. Proper Attribution 3 (2003). Therefore, as a law student, you must learn effective use of that authority to become a successful and effective advocate for your clients.
To effectively use authority, you must start with thorough and up-to-date research. Baruch, supra, at 625-26. As you research, you should be simultaneously documenting, processing, and analyzing the sources that you find. As you proceed, you will start to identify key sources that must be used, possible sources that may be used, and sources that you will not use. As you start to outline and draft your document, you will refine this source selection.
Not only must you identify the sources that you will use, but also you must identify the parts of the sources that you will use and the purpose for which you will use the source, such as for background information, rules of law, direct quotes, paraphrases or summaries, or some other use for the source. See Deborah B. McGregor & Cynthia M. Adams, The International Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Analysis and Communication in the United States 90-91 (2008) (information found in Chapter 6, “The U.S. Concept of Plagiarism and the Proper Attribution to Authority”). As you decide how to use the various sources, recognize that direct quotes should be used only when absolutely necessary. Gerald Lebovits, Do’s, Don’ts, and Maybes: Legal Writing Do’s – Part II, 79 N.Y. St. B.J. 64, 54 (2007). Having too many direct quotes causes several problems, including writing that lacks the writer’s analysis and sounds too choppy. Id. See also Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 127-29 (2008). Specifically, “[o]verquoting leaves little, if any, room for the writer’s own ideas, thoughts, and analysis.” McGregor & Adams, supra, at 94. As you work through the “use of authority” selection process, you may find that you decide to leave out large portions of a source because those portions are not needed for the purpose of the document being drafted. Be sure, though, that whatever information you do use from a source is accurately quoted, paraphrased, or summarized and that the information is not taken out of context. Do not mislead in any way. See David E. Sorkin, Practicing Plagiarism, 81 Ill. B.J. 487, 488 (1993).
In choosing sources, decide whether you will use primary sources, secondary sources, or a combination of primary and secondary sources. Typically, primary sources, which are law, are more credible and persuasive than secondary sources, which are commentary or analysis of the law. See Amy E. Sloan, Basic Legal Research: Tools and Strategies 4-6 (4th ed. 2009). However, know the purpose for which you are writing and your audience. For instance, if you are writing a brief to a court or an internal memorandum to a law firm partner, you likely will use mostly primary sources because the judge or the lawyer wants to know what law controls a particular client situation and the precedent to follow, unless perhaps the issue is novel or very specific. However, if you are writing a scholarly paper, such as a seminar paper, then you might tend to use more of a combination of primary and secondary sources. Choose the authority that helps you to state your points clearly and effectively. Further, reference that authority appropriately. For instance, if you are discussing a court opinion in your document, then do not cite to a secondary source; cite instead to the court opinion directly. Similarly, if you refer to multiple cases in a sentence (e.g. “. . . the courts have held . . .”), then the reader will expect citations to more than one case. Be sure that the authority used in a citation matches the content of the textual sentence that you wrote.
Regardless of your audience or type of legal document that you are writing, remember that using authority only bolsters your analysis and arguments. McGregor & Adams, supra, at 88; Sorkin, supra, at 488. When you use and cite to authority, you are telling the reader that the ideas in your document are not only your own ideas and conclusions, but also that your analysis and arguments are actually supported by law, such as court opinions, statutes, regulations, or other sources (e.g. legislative history). See Sorkin, supra, at 488. If you are using a secondary source and you cite to that source in your document, you tell the reader that a legal scholar supports your analysis. Therefore, using authority helps to make your analysis stronger, more credible, and more persuasive. Take full advantage of this tool.
Once you have selected the sources to use in your document and you have decided how to use those sources, then you must be sure to properly attribute those sources. Proper attribution is necessary to avoid committing plagiarism, which generally is “the use of someone else’s words or ideas . . . without proper attribution to the source.” McGregor & Adams, supra, at 88.
Most law students enter law school knowing that attribution is needed for someone else’s ideas and generally understanding what “plagiarism” means. However, law students may not appreciate the severe consequences in law school and the legal field for failing to provide proper attribution, and so law students absolutely must understand how to recognize and avoid plagiarism. For example, if a student commits plagiarism, either knowingly or accidentally, severe consequences can occur, including a grade reduction, loss of credit for a course, suspension, or expulsion. Robert D. Bills, Plagiarism in Law School: Close Resemblance of the Worst Kind?, 31 Santa Clara L. Rev. 103, 124 (1990). If a student is not expelled because of the violation, the notation of plagiarism may be found in the student’s file, may be required to be disclosed on the student’s bar application, and can be considered by the state’s board of law examiners when reviewing a student’s application for admission to practice law in that state. See id.; Audrey Wolfson Latourette, Plagiarism: Legal and Ethical Implications for the University, 37 J.C. & U.L. 1, 75 (2010). Thus, a commission of plagiarism “may reflect upon an individual’s moral fitness to practice law.” Bills, supra, at 124. Further, practicing attorneys must be diligent and careful in avoiding plagiarism to avoid being sanctioned by a court or being disciplined by the relevant state disciplinary board. See the link regarding the consequences of plagiarism. Practicing attorneys owe ethical obligations to all courts, including the obligation to avoid making a false statement of fact or law to a court. See ABA Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 3.3 (2007) (Candor to the Tribunal). For these reasons, it is vital to understand the meaning and consequences of plagiarism in the law school and law practice context. As will be shown below, plagiarism is viewed as a very serious violation of the Honor Code for law schools, including Penn State Law.
The Law School defines “plagiarism” as follows:
Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the act, either intentional or unintentional, of stating or implying that another person's work is your own. To maintain academic integrity and avoid plagiarism, students must adhere to the guidelines for all Penn State students, the guidelines for Penn State Law students, and any more specific requirements supplied by the course instructor. See Penn State Law's Honor Code. The submission of plagiarized work is a violation of the Honor Code. You, as a law school student, have the responsibility of reading and understanding the Honor Code, including the definition above and the policies regarding academic integrity and plagiarism. The Honor Code can be accessed on the Penn State Law website under the link for the student academic handbook.
Recognizing plagiarism is sometimes straightforward and is sometimes not so obvious. For example, plagiarism occurs when material is directly quoted from a source without proper attribution and quotation marks. See Legal Writing Institute, Law School Plagiarism v. Proper Attribution 4 (2003). This type of plagiarism is easy to identify. However, other types of plagiarism may not be so straightforward, such as when an author paraphrases a source without proper attribution or when an author uses another’s idea. See id. Therefore, to avoid plagiarism, you must:
"1. Acknowledge direct use of someone else’s words. 2. Acknowledge any paraphrase of someone else’s words. 3. Acknowledge direct use of someone else’s idea. . . . 4. Acknowledge a source when your own analysis or conclusion builds on that source. 5. Acknowledge a source when your idea about a legal opinion [comes] from a source other than the opinion itself."
Id.; see also Bills, supra, at 126-30. Further, for direct quotes, you must use quotation marks around the directly quoted language even if it is only a portion of a sentence, include a citation, and mark any changes to any direct quote in compliance with the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (the “Bluebook”) even if the revision is merely to change the tense of a verb or to change a letter from lower-case to upper-case. Lebovits, Do’s, Don’ts, supra, at 54 (stating that you must have “perfect quoting, letter for letter, comma for comma”). “A reader who checks a quotation and finds a misquotation will distrust everything the lawyer writes.” Gerald Lebovits, Legal-Writing Ethics — Part II, 77 N.Y. St. B.J. 64, 58 (2005). However, attribution is not needed for an original idea or information that is “common knowledge.” See McGregor & Adams, supra, at 89; Sorkin, supra, at 488. “Common” or “general” knowledge is information that can be found in many different places. McGregor & Adams, supra, at 89; Sorkin, supra, at 488. For instance, “that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court is common knowledge to most citizens educated in the United States.” McGregor & Adams, supra, at 89.
In addition to acknowledging sources as required in the above-mentioned contexts, use common sense in deciding where to place your citation to make the attribution clear and to avoid being misleading. McGregor & Adams, supra, at 93, 96. Make it clear as to which citation applies to which sentence or portion of a sentence. For instance, if you have a paragraph entirely about one source and it is clear from that paragraph that all of the information in the paragraph is from that one source, then you need citations, but perhaps not after each sentence. In contrast, however, you often will write a paragraph about more than one source and which includes your original ideas about the information from the sources. In this latter case, you must make it clear which ideas are from what source and which ideas are yours. Therefore, you may have a situation where you have a sentence about Case 1, and so you would insert a citation after that sentence. Then you have a sentence about your original idea for which you would not have a citation. Then you have two sentences about Case 2. To err on the side of caution and to be explicit, you should have a cite after each of these two sentences about Case 2 so that the reader is not misled into believing that any of the information in these last two sentences is your original idea. Thus, your goal is to be clear and to not mislead in any way. Sorkin, supra, at 488. Always err on the side of caution, and insert a citation to provide attribution if you have any doubt. If you don’t feel that information in a sentence is directly from a source, but you feel that you obtained the idea for the information indirectly from a source, the more cautious path is to provide a citation, but use a signal, such as “See” or “See generally” to indicate that some of the information in the sentence came from another source. A list of signals and their appropriate uses and format can be found in the Bluebook.
Examples to help with recognizing plagiarism
This section contains examples of the various types of plagiarism listed above. First, read excerpts from two original sources, a law review article and a case, both addressing the issue whether the search of the contents of a laptop computer being transported across a border into the United States, without a reasonable suspicion that the computer contains evidence of a crime, constitutes an illegal search in violation of an individual’s right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Second, read sentences written by an attorney concerning the same issue who also read those original sources but failed to provide proper attribution to one or both sources resulting in plagiarism.
1. Jennifer M. Chacón, Border Exceptionalism in the Era of Moving Borders, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 129 (2010) (most internal cites omitted) — *134 While the Fourth Amendment governs interactions between government officials and civilians at the border, as a practical matter, the constraints on official actors at the border are less stringent than would be the case in many other contexts. This is because the test for Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” turns on the balance between the government's interest and the individual's right to privacy. In the context of border policing, which the courts have linked to the protection of sovereignty and the sanctity of the nation's boundaries, the courts have treated the government's interest as *135 extraordinarily strong. Thus, courts have a more permissive standard for what constitutes a reasonable action on the part of a government actor in the context of policing the international border than in many other policing contexts.
The Supreme Court has often treated the international border as a physical sphere in which the strong interests of the government in controlling the flow of goods (particularly illegal drugs) and people into the country completely eclipse individual privacy interests. . . .
*144 Taken together, the border cases described in Part I mean an agent needs no suspicion to conduct a fairly intrusive search at the border or its functional equivalent. Such searches are constitutional if they rest on no reasonable *145 suspicion or probable cause, even when they entail a “stop” of over an hour while one's car is temporarily dismantled. Not only are Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers entitled to search the luggage of entering passengers regardless of whether there is any suspicion of wrongdoing, but recent cases have suggested that they are entitled to review the entire content of laptop computers of entering passengers. See, e.g., United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941 (9th Cir. 2008) (discussing border search cases involving laptops and videos); United States v. Ickes, 393 F.3d 501 (4th Cir. 2005) (same). Indeed, organizations that advocate for civil liberties have filed lawsuits seeking information about the CBP practice of copying and retaining large amounts of data stored on travelers' laptops. . . . In short, very few meaningful Fourth Amendment protections remain at the border and its functional equivalent. . . .
*152 In light of the changing landscape of immigration enforcement, it is time for legislatures and agencies to impose more meaningful restrictions on all forms of immigration policing, notwithstanding the permissive Fourth Amendment framework set in place by earlier Supreme Court cases. First, standards for inspection at the border and its functional equivalent should be tightened. ICE and CBP officials should be required to have “reasonable suspicion” of a violation prior to referring individuals to more intrusive secondary inspections. Highly intrusive searches, such as laptop searches . . . should be prohibited in the absence of probable cause.
Second, ICE and CBP should cease to rely on “consent” as the basis for making home entries and for checking identification on mass transit far from the border. These searches may be “consensual” as defined in the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but in fact they rely on coercive uses of power. . . .
*153 Third, the Department of Justice guidelines on racial profiling should be revised to bring the standards for immigration policing in line with those articulated for general law enforcement purposes. At this point, immigration policing is so inextricably intertwined with general law enforcement that allowing profiling in the immigration context effectively guarantees reliance on profiling in all law enforcement efforts. Once the federal government has articulated higher standards, state and local agents . . . will also be held to those higher standards. . . .
Ultimately, all of these changes to the law might be politically difficult to achieve. But any one of them would help to slow the erosion of Fourth Amendment protections in policing that began at the border, and have slowly extended throughout the interior of the country, affecting citizens and noncitizens alike.
2. United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941 (9th Cir. 2008) — *945 Courts have long held that searches of closed containers and their contents can be conducted at the border without particularized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment. . . . In any event, the district court's holding that particularized suspicion is required to search a laptop, based on cases involving the search of the person, was erroneous. Its reliance on such cases as United States v. Vance, 62 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.1995) (holding that “[a]s the search becomes more intrusive, more suspicion is needed” in the context of a search of the human body), to support its use of a sliding intrusiveness scale to determine when reasonable suspicion is needed to search property at the border is misplaced. United States v. Arnold, 454 F.Supp.2d 999, 1002-04 (C.D.Cal.2006). *946 The Supreme Court has stated that “[c]omplex balancing tests to determine what is a ‘routine’ search of a vehicle, as opposed to a more ‘intrusive’ search of a person, have no place in border searches of vehicles.” Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152, 124 S.Ct. 1582. Arnold argues that the district court was correct to apply an intrusiveness analysis to a laptop search despite the Supreme Court's holding in Flores-Montano, by distinguishing between one's privacy interest in a vehicle compared to a laptop. However, this attempt to distinguish Flores-Montano is off the mark. The Supreme Court's analysis determining what protection to give a vehicle was not based on the unique characteristics of vehicles with respect to other property, but was based on the fact that a vehicle, as a piece of property, simply does not implicate the same “dignity and privacy” concerns as “highly intrusive searches of the person.” Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152, 124 S.Ct. 1582.
Furthermore, we have expressly repudiated this type of “least restrictive means test” in the border search context. See Cortez-Rocha, 394 F.3d at 1123 (refusing to fashion a “least restrictive means test for border control vehicular searches, and ... refus[ing] to tie the hands of border control inspectors in such a fashion”). Moreover, in both United States v. Chaudhry, 424 F.3d 1051, 1054 (9th Cir.2005) (finding the distinction between “routine” and “non-routine” inapplicable to searches of property) and Cortez-Rocha, 394 F.3d at 1122-23, we have recognized that Flores-Montano rejected our prior approach of using an intrusiveness analysis to determine the reasonableness of property searches at the international border. Therefore, we are satisfied that reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border.
1. Direct quotes:
Sentence from a brief filed with a court: The court held that reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border.
*This sentence contains plagiarism for two reasons. First, the information is from the Arnold case, but there is no attribution provided to the case. Second, because the information is a direct quote from Arnold, quotation marks are needed. As stated above, to avoid plagiarism for a direct quote, you must have a citation and quotation marks.
**Corrected sentence: The court held “that reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border.” United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941, 946 (9th Cir. 2008).
***Place citations for direct quotes immediately after the quoted language, even if the following sentences also are attributed to the same source. See McGregor & Adams, supra, at 93. You would cite after the direct quote and then again after the next sentence(s) that come from that same source. For instance, the following would be proper attribution: “Courts have long held that searches of closed containers and their contents can be conducted at the border without particularized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment.” United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941, 945 (9th Cir. 2008). The court in Arnold started its analysis with the proposition that border searches are broadly construed. Id. at 945-46. Ultimately, the court held that “reasonable suspicion” is not a requirement for the search of a laptop computer during a border search. Id. at 946.
****Also, if you make a change to a direct quote, be sure to mark the change in accordance with the Bluebook’s guidelines. See above regarding quoting accurately. For example, the following is a correct example of making a change to a direct quote: The court reasoned that “[c]ourts have long held that searches of [a] closed container . . . can be conducted at the border without particularized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment.” United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941, 945 (9th Cir. 2008).
Sentence from a brief filed with a court: Immigration enforcement is changing, so legislatures and agencies should require more meaningful regulations on all forms of immigration policing.
*This sentence contains plagiarism because it is an improper paraphrase of the first sentence in paragraph 4 of the Chacón article above, which stated: “In light of the changing landscape of immigration enforcement, it is time for legislatures and agencies to impose more meaningful restrictions on all forms of immigration policing.” It is an improper paraphrase because the sentence largely keeps the sentence structure of the original text, the author merely inserted synonyms for some of the key words, “immigration policing” is a key word that should be directly quoted, and there is no citation for attribution.
**Corrected sentence/paraphrase: Regulations on immigration enforcement must be more “meaningful” to be effective, and so Congress and relevant agencies must enact laws or regulations that fit “the changing landscape of immigration enforcement.” Jennifer M. Chacón, Border Exceptionalism in the Era of Moving Borders, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 129, 152 (2010). — This sentence contains no plagiarism because it now changes the sentence structure and reworks the idea from the article into the author’s own words, but it retains and marks some of the directly quoted phrasing and provides proper attribution.
***A paraphrase is when you decide that an entire direct quote is unnecessary, so you put the information into your own words. Rebekah Hanley, When and How to Borrow Language, 71 Or. St. B. Bull. 13, 13 (2011). When paraphrasing, you must be sure that you are not making merely minor changes to a direct quote, perhaps by just changing a few words. If you merely change a few words, but retain the sentence structure of the direct quote, then it would be plagiarism to just have a citation for attribution. Id. You also should have some quotation marks if key words of the original text are directly quoted. Id. See also McGregor & Adams, supra, at 95.
****To paraphrase, first read and understand the original text and then change it to be in “your own words and sentence structure.” McGregor & Adams, supra, at 95. Also, you can take the original text and highlight or underline the key words of that text. Then insert those key words into your own sentence using quotation marks around those key, unique words, and draft the rest of the sentence using your own words and sentence structure. For instance, highlighting the original sentence above might look as follows: “In light of the changing landscape of immigration enforcement, it is time for legislatures and agencies to impose more meaningful restrictions on all forms of immigration policing.” After deciding which key words to use, a paraphrase could look like the following: Regulations on immigration enforcement must be more “meaningful” to be effective, and so Congress and relevant agencies must enact laws or regulations that fit “the changing landscape of immigration enforcement.” Chacón, supra, at 152.
3. Someone else’s idea:
Sentences from a brief filed with a court: The Fourth Amendment, which should protect searches and seizures, has been diminished during border searches and seizures. Therefore, regulations on immigration enforcement must be more “meaningful” to be effective, and so Congress and relevant agencies must enact laws or regulations that fit “the changing landscape of immigration enforcement.” Chacón, supra, at 152. Changes may be slow and difficult to achieve at the legislative level, but they are necessary if the Fourth Amendment is to remain in effect at all for border searches.
*This passage contains plagiarism because the first and last sentences take ideas from the Chacón article without proper attribution.
**Corrected sentences: The Fourth Amendment, which should protect searches and seizures, has been diminished during border searches and seizures. See Jennifer M. Chacón, Border Exceptionalism in the Era of Moving Borders, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 129, 152-53 (2010). Therefore, regulations on immigration enforcement must be more “meaningful” to be effective, and so Congress and relevant agencies must enact laws or regulations that fit “the changing landscape of immigration enforcement.” Id. at 152. Changes may be slow and difficult to achieve at the legislative level, but they are necessary if the Fourth Amendment is to remain in effect at all for border searches. See id. at 153.
***The corrected sentences now avoid plagiarism because they properly attribute the ideas to the article with an appropriate signal.
4. Conclusion builds on a source:
Sentences from a brief filed with a court: In this case, reasonable suspicion should have been required to search Defendant’s Blackberry device found in a border search. Although a Blackberry device is an “electronic storage device” similar to the laptop computer in Arnold for which reasonable suspicion was not required to be shown during a border search, Arnold, 523 F.3d at 946, policy reasons mandate a finding that reasonable suspicion is necessary during border searches. Specifically, failing to require reasonable suspicion causes an increase in racial profiling at the border. Instead, requiring reasonable suspicion in border searches would make immigration policing more consistent with general law enforcement purposes. Therefore, requiring a higher standard in border searches that is similar to general law enforcement searches would decrease racial profiling even in the absence of more specific legislation or regulations.
*This passage contains plagiarism because the conclusion or argument that immigration policing should be more consistent with general law enforcement purposes is from the Chacón article. While the Chacón article argues for legislative change, the argument in the brief builds on the Chacón argument by stating that the court should require reasonable suspicion for policy reasons even in the absence of legislative change. Therefore, to err on the side of caution, you should provide attribution for this policy argument included in the brief.
**Corrected sentences: In this case, reasonable suspicion should have been required to search Defendant’s Blackberry device found in a border search. Although a Blackberry device is an “electronic storage device” similar to the laptop computer in Arnold for which reasonable suspicion was not required to be shown during a border search, Arnold, 523 F.3d at 946, policy reasons mandate a finding that reasonable suspicion is necessary during border searches. Specifically, failing to require reasonable suspicion causes an increase in racial profiling at the border. See Jennifer M. Chacón, Border Exceptionalism in the Era of Moving Borders, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 129, 153 (2010). Instead, requiring reasonable suspicion in border searches would make immigration policing more consistent with general law enforcement purposes. See id. Therefore, requiring a higher standard in border searches that is similar to general law enforcement searches would decrease racial profiling even in the absence of more specific legislation or regulations. See id.
***The correction merely inserts a citation with an appropriate signal that attributes the idea of increased legislation to the Chacón article.
5. The idea comes from another source:
Sentence from a brief filed with a court: Border officers are entitled to review the entire content of laptop computers of entering passengers without reasonable suspicion. United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941, 946 (9th Cir. 2008).
*This sentence contains plagiarism because it implies that you read the Arnold case, which may not be the case. In actuality, this sentence contains a direct quote from the third paragraph of the Chacón article that summarizes the Arnold case’s holding. Therefore, this attribution is misleading. To be more accurate and to avoid plagiarism, attribution also must be provided to the Chacón article.
**Corrected sentence: Border officers are “entitled to review the entire content of laptop computers of entering passengers” without reasonable suspicion. Jennifer M. Chacón, Border Exceptionalism in the Era of Moving Borders, 38 Fordham Urb. L.J. 129, 145 (2010) (summarizing the holding in United States v. Arnold, 523 F.3d 941, 946 (9th Cir. 2008)).
***The corrected sentence now appropriately inserts quotation marks around the direct quote and provides appropriate attribution.
****The alternative, and the better use of authority, is to avoid the Chacón language entirely. Where possible, use primary authority to support an argument rather than relying on secondary authority. Since this sentence is the Arnold holding, the better use of authority would be to quote or paraphrase the holding in Arnold directly from the opinion, and then cite only to Arnold. If you avoid the Chacón article’s language, then your paraphrase or quote is directly from the opinion, and only a citation to the case would be required. This would be a more persuasive and better use of authority.
To avoid plagiarism, you must be diligent and careful throughout the various stages of the writing process. Further, effective time-management throughout the writing process helps to avoid plagiarism. McGregor & Adams, supra, at 91; Kristin Gerdy, Law Student Plagiarism: Why It Happens, Where It’s Found, and How to Find It, 2004 BYU Educ. & L.J. 431, 433 (2004); Joe Mirarchi, Plagiarism: What Is It? How to Avoid It? And Why?, 4 T.M. Cooley J. Prac. & Clinical L. 381, 383-84 (2001). If you allocate sufficient time to the research/ documentation/ analysis, outlining/ drafting, and proofreading/ polishing stages of writing, then you are more likely to catch missing citations or quotation marks for direct quotes, missing citations for paraphrases, or any other attribution errors. McGregor & Adams, supra, at 91.
- Pre-writing stage (research, documentation, and analysis): Avoiding plagiarism starts with research and note-taking. When you research, carefully document your research findings, such as making note of the source from which you obtained your information, including sufficient citation information and page numbers so that you can find the source again if needed. Also make note of whether the information in your notes is a direct quote, the information in your notes is your paraphrase or summary of information, or the notes are your original ideas or thoughts from the various sources that you found. See McGregor & Adams, supra, at 90-91; Bills, supra, at 124; Baruch, supra, at 626.
- Outlining and drafting stage: In the drafting process, avoid waiting until the final draft to insert citations. Bills, supra, at 124. Instead, even in early drafts, begin to include necessary quotation marks and to insert notes for where citations are needed and a quick reference to the source. You can apply proper citation format as the drafts proceed to the final draft.
- Proofreading and polishing stage: In the proofreading/polishing stage of writing, spend sufficient time on cite-checking. Id.; Baruch, supra, at 597. Proper cite-checking will increase your credibility. Lebovits, Do’s, Don’ts, supra, at 55. Cite-checking is more than making sure proper citation format is followed. Cite-checking also should include making sure that the information from a source is accurate, direct quotations are appropriately marked and attributed, direct quotations are identical to the original language or are marked as changed accordingly, paraphrases are truly paraphrases rather than mere minor changes to a direct quote, paraphrases are properly attributed, and other attributions are included where appropriate. See Darby Dickerson, Citation Frustrations — And Solutions, 30 Stetson L. Rev. 477, 480, 507 (2000).
For more information, please see the following sources:
- Legal Writing Institute, Law School Plagiarism v. Proper Attribution (2003)
- Robert D. Bills, Plagiarism in Law School: Close Resemblance of the Worst Kind?, 31 Santa Clara L. Rev. 103 (1990)
- Deborah B. McGregor & Cynthia M. Adams, The International Lawyer’s Guide to Legal Analysis and Communication in the United States (2008) (Chapter 6 “The U.S. Concept of Plagiarism and the Proper Attribution to Authority”)