Career Advice Opinion

How Do I Avoid the Plagiarism Trap?

By AAEE — March 24, 2011 3 min read
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With so many resources available to assist candidates in preparing their job search application materials, how does one not plagiarize? The internet is a powerful tool to locate information on any topic, but it does not give you the right to plagiarize the author’s materials. So how can one be sure they are producing original work in their application materials?

Let’s start by defining what plagiarism is.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary describes “to plagiarize” as: to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas; to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source; to steal and pass off as one’s own work; to commit literary theft.

Based on this definition, you may be thinking, well there is nothing original left to say on my résumé! Can’t use the on-line template formats, can’t use my career center’s examples, can’t use my classmate’s experience description even though it describes perfectly what I did....so how can I avoid the plagiarism trap?

First, take a deep breath and think about the above questions. All those resources are examples, to get you thinking how to best display your skills, knowledge and abilities. Yes, your experiences are similar to every other candidate looking for work, but you did some unique things during your academic preparation and volunteer activities. Your résumé, cover letter and application essays need to be tailored to your experience and written in your voice.

Résumé formats are rather standard in heading information, objective statement, education and skills, teaching experience, related experience, activities, and honors. The key is to arrange your information under clearly understood headings to make your document flows for the reader. Just because you list your study abroad experience just like everyone else under “Education” rather than “Muliticultural Experience” or “Related Experience” does not make it wrong.

Similarly, in constructing your bullets, the information must be original. Again, there are many sample documents available to assist you in constructing your bullets. These examples are intended to get you thinking about what is important and they present model ways to describe these skills. Remember, these examples are intellectual property and not to be copied.

So how do you make your résumé your own? You can do this by being descriptive, using names, numbers or titles whenever possible. Describe your experience, using type of classes, class populations, how you assessed and used data, how you communicated with parents and colleagues, your integration of technology, classroom management techniques, and so on. Varying your action verbs is also a great way to make the work your own.

Bottom line: you need to describe what you did, experiences you gained and what your students accomplished in your own words.

Cover letters and application essays are crafted to provide the reader insight into your qualifications and ability to communicate effectively. Just like writing academic papers, you need to properly cite anyone’s work you include in your documents. Give credit where credit is due. How would you like it if someone lifted your words into his/her document?

The best way to avoid plagiarism or the perception of copying someone else’s work is to be honest and thoughtful in crafting your application documents. Use the tools available as guides to model your materials, not as the content of your documents.

If it is not your work, how can you defend your application in an interview?

Phyl Naffziger
Career Counselor
Northern Illinois University

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