Plagiarism is perilous, but it can be avoided. The temptations of panic-induced plagiarism or the procedural stumbles of accidental plagiarism may often be countered just by using solid research practices, including effective time management techniques and a research notebook. A research notebook allows you to capture citations as you find them, which both guards against source confusion and saves significant logistical time when you go to build your bibliography. It also helps you to organize your thoughts and ideas as they develop. It can be a physical notebook or a digital one, but it’s simply a way of tracking where the research trail has taken you and how those resources might be structured and deployed in support of your argument.
Some reference management software, like Zotero, are freely available and allow you to digitally capture and keep citation information, as well as notes, on source material. You can also use the citation tools in most databases to do something similar, though a digital instrument like Zotero can further enhance sharing and collaboration. In its most basic form, the boon of any reference management tool or research notebook is just to capture for yourself where you’re finding the information you want to use, so you don’t have to waste time later running that same citation down again as the deadline approaches.
Similarly, there are cues that you can offer to the reader in the course of your writing that lets them know that an idea or an approach comes from somewhere else. Attribution tags are an easy and effective way to do this. Phrases like “According to Hoyle…” or “As Einstein argued…” can signal to the reader that the position you’re adopting derives from some other thinker. Attribution tags are also effective rhetorically, using the prominence of that other thinker to bolster your stance.
Paraphrasing is simply the process of restating a passage, point, or argument in different words. Paraphrasing can help to incorporate, more seamlessly, a particular point into the narrative flow of the paper. Paraphrasing can be very useful, but, if you paraphrase the work of others, it still requires an in-text citation.