Tips for parents helping high school students with final research papers

December 3, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Parents are often tapped to review drafts from their high school students' papers, and a Purdue University online resource can help them sharpen their editing skills, especially when it comes to unintentional plagiarism.

"Parents probably remember their papers as standard book reports where they repeated and summarized information, but students today, starting as young as middle school, are learning research skills for traditional and multimedia projects and how to apply critical thinking skills for their own analysis," says Tammy Conard-Salvo, associate director of the Purdue Online Writing Lab. "This can be a transition for parents and students, and when plagiarism happens it is often unintentional."

Problems often occur when students are challenged to begin with their own opinion and then support it with other sources in a research paper, she says. Students need to properly credit and attribute the information.

"There is a balance with reporting and analyzing," Conard-Salvo says. "Mistakes can happen when a student just sticks a quote or passage in the paper. Instead, incorporate the passage with the proper citation and then follow up with your own analysis. Remember, give credit where credit is due and document any content that isn't your own or isn't common knowledge."

These rules also extend from content to charts, graphs, video, images and illustrations.

Here are some best practices that parents and teachers can teach students to help them avoid plagiarizing:

* While taking notes, the students should mark what needs to be quoted with a "Q" and your own thoughts with "ME."

* Information does not need to be cited if it is common knowledge, which means the same information is found undocumented in five other sources.

* To be safe, use an attribution statement, such as "According to …" so it is clear the information is being paraphrased.

*  Just in case a question does come up, students should keep their previous revised paper drafts and while revising the electronic document, save previous copies so there is a history of edits.

More tips are available at

Students, parents and teachers who have questions about plagiarism or citations can email questions to writing tutors or access more than 400 resource tools on writing skills and issues at Purdue's Online Writing Lab,

Topics include citation resources, grammar, punctuation and résumés. Purdue's OWL received 231 million hits from 125 countries during the 2011-12 academic year.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: Tammy Conard-Salvo, 765-494-4102,

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