ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Instructions for Lesson 6:
Today may be the most important Lesson in the entire course. We learn about the offence of plagiarism and how to avoid it by providing proper citations.
Left: Uhura and Kirk in a famous Star Trek episode called "Plato's Step-Children." The episode is remembered for its inter-racial kiss, the first ever on TV, but perhaps its title should have been researched more closely. Plato never had children, and he never married.
if you missed class, see
In the time of the ancient Greeks, no copyright, trademark or patent laws protected writers, inventors or other creative people. But things are different today in the United States and in all developed countries of the modern world. Images, designs, products, ideas, and even some words are legally protected from piracy.
In the last few years new technologies have made illegal copying easier and almost commonplace, so that students who steal music and movies from the internet may not think twice about lifting, copying or buying copies of term papers or other school work. . . But today's lesson is about thinking twice. Today we learn when academic writers must disclose the sources of their information (the rule against plagiarism), and we also learn how they must disclose it (the rules of citation).
Plagiarism is the most serious offense in academic writing, and it is strictly prohibited in the policies of this course. The rule against plagiarism is defined fully in Hacker's manual, section 29 (including 29, 29, 29a, 29b, and 29c, pages 115-118). In brief, the rule requires that we provide complete citations (that is, disclosures) for each and every quote, paraphrase and summary that we have taken or derived from any source.
Whether we borrow the exact words used in a source ("quotation"), whether we translate the source's words into our own words ("paraphrase"), or whether we borrow the source's ideas rather than its words ("summary"), in all of these cases we must make a proper citation to avoid plagiarism. The only exception is for common knowledge (that is, knowledge that is well known or found in a number of readily available sources). The common knowledge exception is common sense. What book would you cite for the proposition that Thursday follows Wednesday? or that water freezes at 32 degrees F? or that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas? If in doubt whether something is or isn't common knowledge, always err on the side of precaution, and provide a citation.
What's wrong with plagiarism? A few things:
Some students may think that plagiarism makes life easy, but I have evidence to the contrary. For instance, when I was teaching at Notre Dame in the 1970's, a student in one of my freshman English classes submitted a short paper that had been taken word for word, without quotation marks, from Cliff's Notes. When I confronted him, he at first denied any wrongdoing but very soon broke down in tears and wailed about how it always had been his dream to attend Notre Dame and how his dad--a very active alum--would be crushed. The student was expelled. His father drove in from Dayton and took him home. That wasn't easy for anybody except Cliff.
3. When to quote, paraphrase or summarize
There are three different ways to borrow from a written source. We can quote (use the actual words from the source, in quotation marks or block quote format), or we can paraphrase (translate or restate the words of the source), or we can summarize (digest or condense the ideas of the source into far fewer words). All three types of borrowing must be acknowledged with proper citation.
Which way is best for us to use? The general answer is that quotation should be limited, and source summaries are preferred (Hacker 120). Quotation and paraphrase are appropriate when a particular source has primary importance to our paper. For example, suppose that we are writing a research paper on some aspect of Plato's "Apology." In such a paper, Plato's dialogue itself will have primary importance. (We call it a "primary source.") Other books and articles that researchers have written about the "Apology" will have lesser or secondary importance in the paper. (We call them "secondary sources.") What Joe Blow wrote about Plato's dialogue probably should be summarized, not quoted, not paraphrased, even if Joe is an eloquent scholar. Secondary sources in general don't deserve the spotlight that is thrown on them by direct quotes or paraphrases.
In many cases, we won't be writing a paper about a source (as in writing about the "Apology" or some other book), so we won't have a primary source; we'll have only secondary ones. For example, writing about the influence of Socrates on the world today, we're probably not going to find that any one source has overwhelming (primary) importance. Nobody has written the definitive book on this topic, so all of our sources are going to be of secondary importance. Accordingly, most or all of our source references can and should be summaries.
Excessive quotations and unnecessary paraphrases can make very poor impressions on readers. It may look as if the writer could not find any better way to satisfy the word-count or page-length requirement. It may suggest that the writer had nothing original to say or was intellectually overwhelmed by the sources. Always remember that the essay you are writing is your essay. Its words and ideas, in general, should be your own--with reliance on sources only to support your claims.
The MLA rules of citation for quoted, summarized or paraphrased material appear in Hacker's manual, sections 29 through 32. To cite a source in a text that we are writing, we make a brief source reference in our text, and then we provide the full reference details on a separate page that lists all of our "Works Cited"--that is, all of the sources that we quote, summarize or paraphrase in our essay.
The brief source reference in the text normally is handled in two parts, with a "signal phrase" and a "parenthetical reference." The quote, paraphrase or summary from the source is sandwiched in between; the signal phrase introduces it, and the parenthetical reference concludes it.
The in-text citation gives only an author name (or title) and a page number. The rest of the information that readers may need to look up the source is provided after the end of the essay, in a Works Cited list. This is an alphabetized list of all of the sources that were cited in the essay. See the models on Hacker's sample essay pages, 151-154; see also Hacker online.
The details presented in a Works Cited list, and the arrangement of those details, vary by source type. The Works Cited format for a book (Hacker's section 32b6) is different from the Works Cited format for a journal (Hacker's section 32b21 or 22) or the Works Cited format for a newspaper (Hacker's section 32b21 or 22). Hacker's manual shows 56 different formats in all (135-148)! The same list appears in Hacker online.
Use Hacker's models to construct your Works Cited lists. For each source that have cited in your essay, figure out which of the 56 formats best describes it, and then follow that format as a model. Follow it as precisely as possible. Is your source from an online periodical? Then follow Hacker's form 32b32. Questions?
Don't confuse your readers. The Works Cited list arranges sources alphabetically by the name that has been used in the signal phrase or parenthetical reference. (That is, by the author's name or, if no author is given, by the same short title.) If the names in your signal phrase and Works Cited fail to match, you are sending your reader on a wild goose chase, looking for a source that's been renamed in the Works Cited list. It will be difficult or even impossible for the reader to follow your citation.
4. An Example of MLA Citation
Let's take an example. Suppose that we have written the following sentence in an academic essay:
"Apology," compares the troubles in his life to the heroic labors of Hercules (56).
Our signal phrase is "Diskin Clay points out," and our parenthetical reference is "(56)," meaning that Clay makes this point on page 56 of his book.
Alternately, we could have written this in-text citation another way, using a "dropped signal phrase" that combines all of the citation information in the parenthetical reference:
Either way, Clay's work happens to be a book, so our entry in the works cited list entry will follow the works cited list format for a book. This format appears in section 32b6 in Hacker's manual (139). Accordingly, our entry for Clay's book in our Works Cited page should look like this:
Clay, Diskin. Platonic Questions: Dialogues with the Silent Philosopher. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
That is, following Hacker's form 32b6, we list author name (last name first), period, book title, period, city of publication, colon, publisher name, comma, year of publication, period. We follow Hacker's exact arrangement of the source information, right down to the punctuation marks that separate the pieces of information. We do not add additional information that we happen to know about the book or its author. We do not rearrange the order of the information in any way.
Note the reverse-indent of works cited entries. In Microsoft Word, this reverse-indent paragraphing format is called "hanging indentation." The overhang on line one of each entry makes the alphabetized word stand out for easy reference. In the example above, the eye catches "Clay" very easily, even if the works cited list contains dozens or hundreds of entries.
Obviously, MLA citation can get quite repetitious and boring. Suppose that there are three or four quotes or ideas in Clay's book that we want to summarize in our paper? To avoid monotonous language, we will have to vary the phrasing of the signal phrases: for example, "Clay mentions" or "according to Clay" or "Clay's argument is," etc. After the first citation of a source in an essay, it's permitted in later citations of the same source to omit the signal phrase and to put the author's name into the parenthetical reference. For example, once Clay's book has been introduced once in our paper, when we write another reference to his book, we can drop the signal phrase and add the author name to the parenthetical:
Plato describes Socrates as a tragic hero on a mission from the god (Clay 56).
This format is called a dropped signal phrase because the signal phrase has dropped out, and its information has been incorporated in the parenthetical reference. ("Clay" has migrated to the parentheses.) You will often see dropped signal phrases in your readings of academic literature, but they're not a recommended practice. When a signal phrase is used, readers always know the exact point in a text where a source summary begins. When the signal phrase is dropped, however, readers may not be sure exactly where the summary begins. In good citations, we should draw the boundary clearly so readers can see precisely what's Clay and what's not Clay.
More examples of MLA citation appear in Lesson 2, in Dr. G's sample answer to the 2003 Final Exam, and in Dr. G's sample answers to Library Assignment #1 and Library Assignment #2. Another sample works cited section appears in the works cited page for this web.
You can look for well-written examples of MLA citation as you read articles for your research projects. In your research, however, you will find plenty of books and articles that do NOT follow the MLA rules, as we are describing them in this course. Whyt?
A great many popular sources avoid all forms of citation or dummy them down to the point where a reader is unable to trace the author's sources of information. This is an important difference between academic and popular writing. The academic writer is transparent in showing the reader the research that is being relied upon. The popular writer--a journalist, for example--can hide his or her sources or simply pretend that there were sources. It can be difficult or impossible to check whether the popular writer is telling the truth, distorting it, or simply ignoring it. The goal of popular publishing after all--as we have said--is not to seek the truth but to entertain in order to sell ads and copy. Bending the truth often helps sales.
Systems of citation do have a reason for being, after all. They lend credibility and also provide the networking that inter-connects books and articles and other sources in the literature or published research of every subject. An academic book or article that is well researched is, in itself, a good research tool for others. Its works cited list, list of references, or bibliography will provide leads for readers to investigate.
In general, summarize sources; restrict your use of quotations and paraphrases.
An MLA citation normally consists of three parts: a signal phrase, parenthetical reference, and works cited list.
MLA format is used widely in US academic research in the humanities.
Left: another detail from The School of Athens, the imagined figure of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Raphael may have based this image on the person of Michelangelo, a rival artist then at work in the Vatican. We don't know. He didn't cite his sources!
Database searching is a learned skill. Taking a few minutes to receive proper training will save you a lot of research time. To build your skills using InfoTrack and ProQuest, please see TC3 Librarian Barabara Kobritz' tutorial on Database Searches .
Incidentally, InfoTrac service is available at many free public libraries, including for example Southworth Public Library in Dryden. You'll probably be able to find access this database even when you're no longer enrolled in a college or university.