Tips for Students

Recommendations for students

The ELI recognizes that ideas and rules regarding plagiarism, authorship, and intellectual property may be quite different in different cultures. The ELI respects other cultures’ acceptable ways of using ideas or words from sources, but at the same time, because the University of Hawai`i is an American university, we have a responsibility to follow (and teach) the conventions for academic discourse that are commonly accepted here.

As a student here, you also are responsible for learning and following these rules. We realize that academic writing isn’t easy to learn. One of the main points we wish to make in this ELI plagiarism policy is that students are, indeed, apprentices who are learning academic discourse, step by step with the help of others. This section provides tips to help you with this process. It’s written as a set of FAQs:

  • What if the topic doesnt interest me? Whenever we write, it’s much easier if we have “ownership” of our topic. Many instructors try to design assignments so that they can help students to make the topic their own, but even if they don’t, you can do the same thing. Think about the topic… What do you already know about it? What don’t you know? What questions or problems come to your mind that you would really like to see answered? Make a short list and then ask your instructor if any of these ideas would make a good topic for your assignment.
  • Ive read one of my source texts, but I really dont understand it. What can I do?
    • First, try to re-read it using some common academic reading strategies:
      • Know the purpose for reading the text. Are you going to be discussing it in class? Are you supposed to write a response or reflection paper discussing which of the authors’ ideas you agree and disagree with? Are you going to have a quiz over vocabulary and key concepts? Or is it going to be one of several sources you need to incorporate into a paper? The types of reading strategies you choose (including how you take notes) should be very different for different academic purposes.
      • Preview the text. Read the title and the subheaders, thinking about the topic and how it appears to be organized. Then go back and read the introduction and conclusion. Now you should have a basic idea of what the author’s main points will be. This should make it easier to go back and read the whole text. (But if you get stuck in the middle, stop and think again about the main points.)
      • Highlight parts of the text and take notes in the margins to remind you of important information and how you want to remember and use it. This will, of course, depend on the purpose for reading (for example, if you’re supposed to discuss where you agree or disagree with the author, you could highlight key ideas, then write “A” for “agree” or “D” for “disagree” in the margin).
    • Discuss the text in a study group.
      • As you read, write down questions that come to your mind.
      • Then discuss these questions with a few classmates. Discussing a text can help everyone in the study group to have a fuller understanding, to clarify confusing parts, and to look at possible applications of the authors’
    • If you still don’t understand the text, make an appointment with your instructor to ask for help. Go to the appointment prepared – by identifying parts you didn’t understand and being ready to tell the instructor what you think the text is saying.
  • How can I take notes in ways that help me avoid plagiarizing? Imagine this situation… You’re reading a text, and you don’t have a lot of time. You’re going to have to incorporate some of the ideas from this text when you write your final paper, so you take notes as you read, and you find that it’s easier to copy some of the author’s ideas exactly into your notes…. A week later, when you start writing your paper, you forget which parts you copied, and as you look at your notes, you say, “I like the way I wrote that, so I’ll copy it exactly like this into my paper.” Now part of your paper is plagiarized!

To avoid this mistake, there are a few things you can do:

    • Create a system that helps you to keep track of different topics, key ideas, or authors. (One student’s advice was to use one color of highlighter for sources’ ideas, and another color for the student’s own ideas; other students use different colored highlighters for different authors.)
    • Whenever you start copying, put quotation marks around the copied part, and then put the page number (and if you’re working with more than one text, also write the authors’ names).
  • Would a process approach to writing be helpful? Of course! Any time you write drafts, get feedback, and revise a paper, it’s going to be a much better product than if you just “crank it out” in one night. Some instructors assign drafts of papers, and schedule opportunities for peer and instructor review and feedback. But even if your instructor just assigns the paper and tells you when the final deadline is, you can still follow a process approach:
    • “Assign” drafts (with deadlines) to yourself. You know yourself well, so make sure you get started early enough.
    • Exchange papers with a classmate and give each other feedback.
    • Ask a classmate to help you do a “plagiarism assessment” (compare your draft to your sources, checking carefully for “too similar” usage or failure to use citations). (Note that, in some cases, you might want to ask a “mentor” student in your field, or even your instructor, for help with the plagiarism assessment.)
  • What is informed patchwriting? And how might it be helpful? Many writers feel that it’s important to keep their “train of thought” moving forward. If they stop too long (for example, to paraphrase something from one of their sources), they lose their train of thought and then it’s hard to continue writing. Some writers actually purposely use patchwriting – copying and pasting directly from a source text — to keep their ideas moving. This can be a very time-efficient strategy; you don’t have to stop and think about quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing each time. However, if it is done carelessly, it can result in plagiarism. “Informed patchwriting” means that you know you’re patchwriting, you are careful about how you patchwrite, and then you go back and work through the patchwritten Here are the steps:
    • Whenever you patchwrite, either highlight or put quotation marks around the patchwritten part, and then reference it (with the authors’ names and page numbers).
    • After you finish your draft, return to each patchwritten part and decide how you want to use it. Ask yourself, “What do I want to say, and how does this fit in? Then decide whether you want to quote it, paraphrase it, or summarize it. (And don’t forget to cite the source!) (Many writers find that they get into a “paraphrasing mood”, and it goes much more quickly than if they had done the paraphrasing item by item while writing their first draft.)
    • If you don’t have confidence in your ability to paraphrase, summarize or quote correctly, ask for help (from a classmate, a mentor, or even your instructor). Perhaps you can get help with just one or two paragraphs, and then try to continue with the remainder of the paper on your own.
    • If necessary, show some of your paraphrases to your instructor, to make sure that you did a good job (and included proper citations).
  • Id like to ask my instructors for help, but I know theyre busy. What should I do? Having good communication with your instructors is one of the best things you can do. Yes, instructors are busy people, but most instructors are willing to spend time helping students understand a difficult text, or to help students learn more about the writing requirements of their field. (Many students worry about causing inconvenience, but a bit of inconvenience is minor compared to feelings of anger or even betrayal that many instructors feel if they find plagiarism in a student’s paper.) Additionally, asking for help can show the instructor what level of academic writing you are at (and probably others in the class), as well as areas where you are struggling; this can help them make adjustments to the assignment or how they teach the material. Finally, because you’ve communicated honestly with your instructors, they will be much more likely to believe that an incidence of plagiarism in your final paper was accidental, not intentional.

Make appointments with your instructors:

    • to make sure you understand the details about the assignment or project. What kind of academic product is expected? How long should it be? Is it supposed to be your original thinking, or is it supposed to incorporate sources? What style guide is expected? And when is it due?
    • if you don’t understand what you have read.
    • if you feel you may have accidentally patchwritten or otherwise plagiarized, and need help with a plagiarism assessment.

When you meet your instructors, be prepared. Be ready to show them parts of the source text that you a struggling to understand, or a paragraph of your paper that you think might include some plagiarism. And don’t expect them to “fix” everything (for example, if you can get help with paraphrasing two or three patchwrittten sentences, then you can try to continue with the remainder of the paper on your own).

If you have any recommendations for students that are not included here, please consider sending them to kenton[at] Please allow up to a month for suggestions to be added.

Next: Tips for Instructors