Friday, June 11, 2010

Research, Fifth of Eight Parts: Plagiarism & In-Text Citations

Have you ever offered an idea that others in the group passed over without comment, yet later, someone else offered the same idea and received not only the credit for the idea but also all the praise? You probably felt undervalued because you had been treated unjustly. Avoiding plagiarism and being academically honest simply mean that you give credit to the person who originated the idea and put it into words.

Academic honesty requires that you give credit to those who have gone before you, those who first posed a question and developed an answer, those who set down the facts for our use later--those who synthesized information that fostered and furthered the body of human knowledge. Those are the people on whose shoulders you stand as you study and advance in your own understanding. Those contributors must show up on your Works Cited and Works Consulted pages. Not to list them, not to acknowledge them is to be academically dishonest, to plagiarize.

In other words, academic honesty requires that you acknowledge those to whom you are indebted for information and ideas. This bears repeating: academic honesty requires that you acknowledge those to whom you are indebted for information and ideas. To meet this requirement easily, recall the purpose and value of note cards explained in the blog last week. Note cards, carefully developed, will allow you to keep track of your sources and whether or not you have paraphrased, summarized, or quoted from various sources. In other words, note cards insure academic honesty.

If one important goal of writing a researched essay is to prove your knowledge, then it is an absolute no-brainer that you need to acknowledge your sources. By listing them, you announce to your reader, “Look at me. See what I have read and analyzed in order to bring you this new insight. My essay has weight because it includes verified facts, expert testimony, first-hand accounts, and logic.”

If another important goal of writing a researched essay is to prove your reasoning abilities, then you must put your reasoning on display. Wrestle with sources, identify their deficiencies or biases, and offer your own critiques so that readers can follow your logic to weigh the merits of your argument.

Above all, just do it! Acknowledging sources with MLA or APA’s guidelines is the right thing to do—even if you alter the original passage, even if you paraphrase or summarize. Again, that bears repeating: even if you alter the original, paraphrase the original, summarize the original, or quote the original source, you must let the reader know where the idea and/or information and/or words appeared first. Not to do so is to plagiarize.

In-Text Citations. Both MLA and APA have specific requirements for in-text citations. You can review the requirements by buying the manuals (links provided in this blog), searching online for help, or going to the appropriate section at You should refer to one of these resources as you write a first draft of your researched essay.

In general, as stated above during the plagiarism section, your job is to let your reader know who and what have contributed to your essay; i. e., what information, facts, opinions, and experts have shaped the insights that you develop and defend. And, you should let your reader know without overly complicating the essay itself. An in-text citation is one of the least intrusive ways to acknowledge sources, but the in-text form has not always been the preferred format. Indeed, until about 30 years ago, the preferred method was footnoting with the actual notes appearing at the bottom of the relevant page or as a separate section at the end of a long work.

Today, primarily as a result of MLA, footnotes are uncommon. I think you can appreciate why the change was overdue if you have ever struggled through an annotated edition of any classic work. Can you recall your freshman year in high school as you read Romeo and Juliet? Footnotes along the side, at the bottom, or on a separate page interrupted your reading. Still, they were often essential to your understanding. Your eye was drawn away from the dialogue, to the note, back to the dialogue, back to the note, and again to the dialogue as you tried to put the note in context and understand the help it offered. How much easier it might have been if the meaning of words had appeared in parentheses immediately after the somewhat archaic Elizabethan word that Shakespeare used.

In that spirit, MLA recommended, then required in-text citations that link to the Works Cited page. If you remember the link between the two citations—the first appearing in the text of the essay you write and the second appearing as a list of works at the end of the essay—you will easily understand what must appear inside the parentheses: a word(s) that can be found quickly among the many words on the Works Cited page.

What would be the easiest word to spot on the list? The first word of each entry, especially because the entries are alphabetized so the list can be reviewed quickly, easily. To this end, if you paraphrase, summarize or quote from a source, you will put the first word(s) of the Works Cited entry for that source inside parentheses at the point in the essay where you paraphrase, summarize or quote from it.

Usually, the first word in a Works Cited entry is the author’s last name. For example, a basic single-author citation for a book includes the information, order and punctuation shown below.

Last, First. Title. City of Publisher: Publisher, Copyright Year.

A parenthetical in-text citation for such an entry will include the first word—the author’s last name—and the page number for the page upon which the paraphrased, summarized, or quoted information appears. Thus, a complete parenthetical in-text citation for information appearing on page 34 in a book by one author will look like this: (Last 34).

Sometimes, however, you will use two works by authors with the same last name. In that case, you must add the initial of the first name to distinguish between the two works. For the generic example above, the parenthetical in-text citation would be (F. Last 34).

Occasionally, you will list two works by the same author.

Last, First. Title. City of Publisher: Publisher, Copyright Year.

Last, First. Title the Second. City of Publisher: Publisher, Copyright Year.

A parenthetical in-text citation for one of these works by a single author would be (Last, Title the Second 34).

There are rules and guidelines for works with no author, web articles, print articles, multi-volume works, classic works, the Bible, recordings, films, interviews, and more so a manual is essential, but the principles for a useful parenthetical, in-text citation are the same:

1. give your reader what he needs and can easily find on your Works Cited page,
2. give your reader enough information so that he can distinguish between the resources you have listed, and
3. include the page number of print sources so that readers can find the exact location of the paraphrase, summary, or quotation if they wish to do so.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):

Write accurate Works Cited entries for a book with one author, a book with three or more authors, a magazine or journal article, and an online resource. Pay close attention to the demands of spacing, punctuation, line alignment, and indentation.

Reading Challenge:

Using Time, Newsweek, newspaper articles, scholarly articles, and biographies, examine how writers integrate or imbed evidence, facts, and quotations effectively and how they acknowledge their sources using in-text citations or phrasing.

Note that quite often, journalists do not provide a list of works cited. Instead, they use phrases such as according to Joe Expert, the Director of Agency X charged with overseeing the latest debacle . . . . With such phrases, the writer can give readers almost as much information as a parenthetical citation and Works Cited entry.

Also, be alert to the ways that journalists establish their credibility and present their knowledge so that you too can vary the ways in which you acknowledge sources. MLA, APA and the Purdue University site provide for such variety and show how the parenthetical, in-text citation might become shorter as a result.

Writing Challenge:

Return to the editorial that you wrote after reading the blog entry for May 30, 2010. Integrate facts and quotations, using the methods you observed during the Reading Challenge above.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.