ON CITATIONS, PLAGIARISM, PARAPHRASING, ETC.


I find that many students are uncertain about how to footnote their sources properly, particularly with respect to the use of paraphrases and even direct quotations.   Students frequently (but mistakenly) believe that extensive paraphrasing is permitted if one merely puts a citation at the end (without acknowledging that the material is paraphrased, or which part of it is paraphrased).  They also seem to believe (mistakenly) that if they include a reference to the material somewhere in the paper, then direct quotations are permitted without requiring any quotation marks.  For example, here is how a student responded to my comments on his paper that he had not provided citations:
I was taught in my high school English classes that you did not need to cite an author if you used the basic idea but stated it in your own words.  A citation was only required if you used the author's exact words.  That may be different here at UMD, but that accounts for my lack of citation in my paper.
This was my reply:

I know it's confusing and frustrating to have your teachers contradict each other, but the standard I applied to your paper has two different justifications.

First, it is the standard used by Keys for Writers, used in all UMD freshman composition courses.  I don't know what other handbooks say, but I would be much surprised if they said anything substantially different.

This brings me to the second reason, one that goes beyond the mere legalism of the first reason.(1)  Why do we have citations at all?   There are three basic reasons:  1. to enable the reader to check the your facts, claims, and interpretations (when those facts, claims, and interpretations are derived from another source);  2. to evaluate the reliability of your sources (or at least to evaluate the nature of their bias);  and 3. to acknowledge the help others have given one.  The criterion you learned in your high school English class does not give credit:  it lets you get help — perhaps even substantial help — from the author and never acknowledge it.
One should even bend over backwards to give credit.  Credit doesn't take away from what you've done but just spreads the wealth.  So I do understand that it was your high school's teaching and not any intention to deceive that created the lack of citation in your paper.  (This is true of all the papers in the class.)  Nevertheless, I believe that the issue is clear enough, for the reasons given above, for me to continue to require proper citations as I have outlined.
Best regards,
Steve Chilton

TWO SELF-QUIZZES

QUIZ I:  Here's a passage in a term paper that references a book by John Smith:

As John Smith says, proving my point about cattle mutilations, "Yep, them cattle were sure 'nuff mutilated by aliens" (Smith, 103).
Then in the bibliography, here's the reference, given in its entirety:(2)
Smith, John.
Based on the information given above in pink, answer the following questions:
  1. Can we check whether Smith really said that?  If so, do we know when or in what context he said it?
  2. Can we tell if the quotation is complete, accurate, and not taken out of context?
  3. Can we tell who John Smith is, anyway?  Is he a reliable source?  If nothing else, is his publisher reliable?
  4. What information would you need to answer the previous questions?


QUIZ II:  Here's a citation of a different sort, again given in its entirety:
John Smith.  www.cattlemutilations.org/~johnsmith/
Based on the information given in the previous line:
  1. can we check whether Smith really said that?  If so, do we know when or in what context he said it?
  2. can we tell if the quotation is taken out of context?
  3. can we tell who John Smith is, anyway?  Is he a reliable source?  If nothing else, is his publisher reliable? - oops, there's no publisher here.  Well, is the person who made the web site reliable?
  4. What information would you need to answer the previous questions?  See if you can answer the question by clicking on the link above.  Having trouble? — Guess why I don't like references to web sites!

FOOTNOTES

1. In other words, this second reason goes beyond the first reason's assertion, "Do it because it's the law."

2. Even though this might appear patently inadequate, I do frequently find such citations in student papers.


URL:   http://www.d.umn.edu/~schilton/Courses/Citations.html
Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2003-12-17
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