Back to Part One


William Badke 

Table of Contents


Topic Selection and Analysis
The Research Question
Structure of a Research Paper


Should you use the Words of Others?
What is Plagiarism?
What is Proper Research Paper Form?
Final Words
Appendix: Sample Papers

Google Doc related to this site

See the author's books for students: Research Strategies: Finding your Way through the Information Fog (2021) and Beyond the Answer Sheet: Academic Success for International Students (2003).




Should you Use the Words of Others or Your Own Words?

Many international students are confused by research assignments. They have been trained to read the work of scholars in books and journals and to present that work in the research essay. Often that has involved quoting many scholars directly so that the research essay is mainly the quotations of other people. There seems to be good reason to do this: We honor great scholars by quoting them, and their use of language is often far better than our own.

But most research essays are intended to show your own thinking and to use your own words wherever possible.

This is confusing. The professor does want you to read the books and articles of other people. The research essay is supposed to make use of that research to present your own analysis and arguments. But how can a student use the work of others if he/she is not allowed to quote their work? Here is the answer:

You are allowed to quote from the things you have read, but there are definite rules for doing this:

Most of your work is to be in your own words. This means:

Your friend says to you, "I haven’t eaten for a long time, so why don’t we stop at McDonalds?" Someone nearby says, "What does he want?" You explain, "My friend is hungry and wants to stop for a burger."

Notice that you did not paraphrase, as for example, "My friend hasn’t eaten for a long time and wants to stop at McDonalds." You actually interpreted what your friend said and expressed it accurately but in your own words. The only word from your friend that you also used was "stop."

Your professor is mainly interested in seeing how well YOU have understood the material. Professors do not want you simply to repeat what you’ve read but to interpret what you’ve read, expressing your own understanding in your own words.

But what if your English is not very good, and other writers have already expressed their thoughts in better grammar than you could ever use? The answer is that you still need to use your own words except for brief quotations.

What is Plagiarism?                     

For presentation that explains what plagiarism is and help you avoid it, go to: International students can find themselves accused of plagiarism. In academic institutions, plagiarism is seen as a very serious offence. Punishment can range from a zero for your essay to failure of your course, or even to expulsion from your school.

What then is plagiarism?

Let's first define it: Plagiarism is using another writer’s words or unique ideas as if they were your own.  Plagiarism happens when you put those words or ideas into your research paper without indicating that they did not come from you.  The professor believes those are your own words or ideas, because you have not stated that they came from someone else. As such, plagiarism is fraud.

The most serious is simply quoting from a source (a book or article or website) but not giving any indication by quotation marks and a note that it actually is a quotation from someone else. On very rare occasion a student will actually submit a whole essay written by someone else. Even if this is not the case, you are plagiarizing every time you quote from someone else without indicating that it is a quotation. Some students have tried to avoid accusation by quoting large portions from sources, not using quotation marks but adding notes (footnotes or endnotes or short notes) at the end of each paragraph. This, however, is still plagiarism. Unless you put quotation marks around your quotations, you are giving the reader the impression that the material is not a direct quotation, but is your own work.

It is also possible to plagiarize by using a writer’s unique ideas without indicating the source of those ideas. What is a "unique idea?" It is an idea that you find only in one author, not several. It is an idea that belongs to that author. If you refer to the idea in your essay without indicating who first expressed that idea, you are leaving the false impression that the idea is your own.

Why is plagiarism so serious a problem? – The main reason why academic institutions punish plagiarism so strictly is that it is dishonesty, the telling of a lie. When you use another person’s words or ideas in your paper without indicating their source, you are giving the impression that those are your words or ideas, when they are not. Remember that professors in North America are more interested in your interpretation of your sources than they are in quotations. If you mislead a professor by pretending that what is in your essay came from you, it will result in serious penalties when you are discovered.

How would a professor find out that I plagiarized material? – Some international students face a real problem. If an international student’s written English is not strong, there is a temptation simply to quote from scholars who have better English. Your professor, however, can easily see the difference between the wonderful English of a plagiarized essay and the less polished English you may use in class or on an examination. Thus, for an international student, excellent English in an essay may be a sign to the professor that the essay is plagiarized.

These days professors can find almost any material plagiarized from the Internet or an electronic full text database.  Some institutions use plagiarism detection services like  Even if your institution does not, your professor can take a few words of text from your paper, type them, with quotation marks around them, into Google and locate the exact website you plagiarized your material from, if indeed, you did.  The same can be done with searches in your library's electronic databases provided by companies like ProQuest, EBSCO, and so on.

In the case of print materials that may have been plagiarized, professors will often go to a library and try to locate the original sources that they believe were copied. If they find these sources, the plagiarism can be proven.

Most international students are honest and have no intention of deceiving a professor. Once you understand that all quotations and use of unique ideas must be clearly indicated in your essay by quotation marks and/or notes, the risk that you will plagiarize will be very small.

For an Internet site designed for professors but providing a lot of information about how to avoid plagiarism, see


Copyright is a law that is intended to prevent anyone from making copies of published
books and articles (or parts of these) without permission.   Normally copyright law
does not prevent a student from making quotations from published materials in a
research essay as long as the student essay does not quote more than about 10% of a
published work. 

Students do, however, break the copyright law when they copy a major part or all of a
published book or when they copy several articles from the same issue of a journal. 
Your school will likely have a statement about copyright available to guide you. 

What is Proper Research Essay Form?        

International students soon discover that professors want research papers to be presented in certain ways. The professor may say, "This is what your title page should look like." Or he/she may indicate that you need to follow "APA Format." The issue of what an essay is supposed to look like can be quite a problem.

Style Manuals

There are several books available that explain proper form for research papers. They cover everything from what a title page should look like to proper form for notes and bibliography. Three major formats are used in North American Academic libraries: APA format, MLA format and Turabian format. Different institutions use different formats. Sometimes even different professors in the same institution will use different formats. Each format has its own book to describe it. These are:

(APA) American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association:

(MLA) Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York Modern Language Association.

(Turabian or Chicago) Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press:

(Chicago/Turabian) The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press. / Turabian, Kate L., et al. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations : Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Chicago : University of Chicago Press. (official Turabian site, quick guide)

Guides to Several Formats (Thanks to Alejandro from Jean Massieu Academy for this one)

If you are confused about format, your institution may have some sample essays that show you what a title page should look like; how to format your margins, headings and notes; how to set up your bibliography, and so on. In most academic settings in North America, proper format is important. Take it seriously.

The rule with format is to find out what format your professor or school is using, then study
it closely and follow it very carefully. Even the punctuation is important. Make sure your
notes and bibliography are in exactly the form your professor requires. If you are having
any difficulty understanding the form, go to your professor and ask for more help.

There are electronic resources that can help you a great deal with format:

1. Bibliographic Managers - Many institutions have bibliographic managers like RefWorks and EndNote.  These tools allow you to collect and store citations to books and articles, then insert citations directly into research papers and format both the citations and the final bibliography.  Usually there are instructions available with these tools so that you can get to know how they work.  One free online bibliographic manager is Zotero ( Another is EndNote Basic (

2. Downloading citations in correct format - Several databases (for example,, the EBSCO databases) allow you to save citations of books or articles in the format of your choice.

3. Using online citation generators - Citation Machine ( and KnightCite (  Each of these asks you to choose format, type of source, then allow you to enter citation information and generate an accurate citation.

4. Internet Resources on Citing: The Trademark of a Good Writer - (a great site for links to lots of help with using citations, avoiding plagiarism, and so on; thanks to two students at Mason Valley Tutors for suggesting this resource).

Final Words                                            

The goal of the research essay is not to gather information and report on it. Research essays are assigned so that you can study a certain topic, develop a research question, and answer it using the materials you have studied plus your own analysis. The professor wants to see that you are thinking through an issue, not simply explaining or quoting what you have read. The information you discover in your research is thus only the foundation, the first part, of the task. What is more important is your ability to use that information to advance the world's knowledge.

APPENDIX - Sample Papers                                 

For sample papers, see:



Below is a link to a sample paper in Turabian format.  Note that Turabian actually has two methods, a Reference List format, using short citations in parentheses right within the text of the essay (Johnson, 245) and a Notes format using traditional footnotes.  The example below uses the Notes approach.  

Click here for link to sample Turabian format paper (PDF).


             Last revised: August 2022