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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

Offers detailed guidance on how to develop, organize, and write a college-level research paper in the social and behavioral sciences.


According to USC's Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards, plagiarism is:

  1. The submission of material authored by another person but represented as the student's own work, whether that material is paraphrased or copied in verbatim or near-verbatim form.
  2. The submission of material subjected to editorial revision by another person that results in substantive changes in content or major alteration of writing style.
  3. Improper acknowledgment of sources in essays or papers.

Avoiding Allegations of Plagiarism

An allegation of plagiarism is intent-neutral. In other words, the reader cannot discern whether the absence of a citation was done deliberately or you simply forgot to add a citation or accidentally cited to the wrong source. Therefore, it is important to proofread your paper before you submit it to ensure you have listed all sources used during your research and that every in-text citation relates to a full citation in your list of references. This is also why it is important to keep track of everything you have used during the course of writing your paper so you can easily assess whether all your sources have been cited.

With this in mind, credit must be given when using one of the following in your own research paper:

  • Another person's idea, opinion, or theory;
  • Any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings, or other non-textual elements used or that you adapted from another source;
  • Any pieces of information that are not common knowledge;
  • Quotations of another person's actual spoken or written words; or
  • Paraphrase of another person's spoken or written words.

To introduce students to the process of citing other people's work, the USC Libraries have created a useful online tutorial on avoiding plagiarism. It describes what constitutes plagiarism and offers helpful advice on how to properly cite sources. In addition, the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards has also published, "Trojan Integrity: A Guide for Avoiding Plagiarism." This guide provides a comprehensive explanation for how to defend yourself against allegations of violating the university's policy on academic integrity.

If you have any doubts about whether to cite a particular source concerning an argument or statement made in your paper, protect yourself by citing the source or sources that helps the reader determine the validity of your work. Note that not citing a source not only raises concerns about the academic integrity of your paper, but, more importantly, it tells the reader that you did not conduct an effective or thorough review of the literature in support of examining the research problem. It also inhibits the reader's ability to review the cited source to obtain further information about what is being discussed in your paper.

Academic Integrity. The Writing Center. University of Kansas; Avoiding Plagiarism. Academic Skills Program, University of Canberra; How and When to Cite Other People's Work. Psychology Writing Center, University of Washington; Proctor, Margaret. "How Not to Plagiarize." University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Plagiarism. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Plagiarism. The Writing Center. Department of English, George Mason University. Avoiding Plagiarism. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University.