“Be sure to write it in your own words,” is a mantra that is repeated by educators at all academic levels. For students, the idea of writing in one’s own words is repeated from the first paragraphs written in grade school all the way to a doctoral thesis. In the age of the Internet, almost any piece of knowledge or idea can be found, copied and presented in a matter of minutes. If being able to find the knowledge is what is most important, the extra step of rewriting what others have done seems superfluous. So, why do instructors and publications care if something is written in original words, even if the sources are properly cited? While the Internet is a tool to find “the right words”, there are several reasons to put ideas and thoughts in one’s own voice. Here are six reasons it is important to use one’s own words when writing. When copying the words of someone else, nothing new is created and nothing is contributed to the larger discussion.
While it is critical to quote and reference the work of others, the part that is one’s own words is the part that adds value to the conversation and builds upon the work of others rather than merely repeating it. If everyone simply repeated what others have said and discovered before, nothing new would be created, discussed or invented. A change in words and context might help others better understand it, add a new perspective or make a connection that was previously missed. Bottom Line: Learning to write in one’s own words helps form the skills needed to thinking creatively and meaningfully. “It is important to write in your own words so that you contribute something new to society. If everyone copied someone else’s writing, it would be impossible to advance as a society (we’d still be copying each other’s petroglyphs!), not to mention how boring it would be! Regardless of academic or career choices, written communication is almost certainly an essential component. Email, social media, blogging and online communities have increased the amount most people write socially and professionally. As with any skill, the only way to improve one’s writing is to write often.
By merely copying and pasting the words of others, one cannot learn how to effectively string words together and express thoughts, feelings and opinions, whether the writing task is a class assignment, an email or a professional manuscript. Bottom Line: Learning to write well is a skill that will help communicate effectively academically, socially and professionally. While copying and pasting what others have written shows that the information was located, it doesn’t show that the information was read, understood or processed. Academic assignments are designed to show instructors that students understand topics and concepts, and are successfully able to apply it into a paper of their own. When a student or writer properly researches a topic, takes appropriate time to think through the material and write a paper in original words, the writing will reflect the due diligence and understanding involved. Bottom Line: Writing an essay requires more than just finding information.
It requires understanding information and making sure the writing reflects that level of understanding. If you cannot say it in your own words, you do not understand the information enough to pass a test on the subject, so study the information until you do. If you can explain something a multitude of ways, you really know your information. Writing is one of the most effective ways to learn any subject. In fact, note taking has been found to be highly valuable in the classroom because writing helps people better understand and retain information. There is a significant difference in comprehension between when people takes their own notes and when people borrow someone else’s. This is partly because the notes are unfamiliar, but also because less of it was comprehended because less of the brain was engaged. Something similar happens when writing a paper for a class. Reading a textbook or a slew of articles on a topic can help learn it, but writing about it engages more of the brain and helps more of the information stick.
Bottom Line: Not writing in one’s own words means having less knowledge fully understood and retained in one’s memory. “The intent of what you say only comes through when you write as yourself. Academic and scholarly integrity are demonstrated in work that is original. Writing is an opportunity to express one’s own voice, show how the writer has connected to and processed the information, and explain why the reached conclusions are important. Students are expected to complete an assignment individually, creatively and according to academic guidelines because, in doing so, students not only show due diligence, but learn to critically think about a topic and how to communicate thoughts intelligently and effectively. Bottom Line: Writing originally is a mark of integrity because it reflects the due diligence of critically thinking and effectively communicating thoughts about a topic. In the midst of the stress, a tight deadline, and a lack of preparedness, students often think that plagiarizing and all its forms–copying and pasting information or changing a few words from an article–is the easiest way out. The consequences of plagiarism can often be severe, such as a student receiving an F for a class or being expelled from school.