6. Plagiarism and Citation of Sources

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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.

1. Read the rule book, Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual, pages 113-154. Pay close attention to 113-135, and at least skim through 135-154. These are the rules for avoiding plagiarism by disclosing sources according to the Modern Language Association of America (MLA).

2. Read this page, also explaining plagiarism and the basics of citation.

3. Get started on Library Assignment #2, which will be due in Lesson 7.

sample class discussion on Lesson 6

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.


Module 1

1: Orientation  
2: Goals   

Module 2

  3: Euthyphro  
     4: The Library
 5: The Apology   
    6: Citation   
    7: Crito
    8: Phaedo  
    9: Exam Prep   
10: Plato Exam

Module 3

11: Research Project 
12: Research 101   
13: Books   
14: the Librarian   
15: the Web   
16: conferences  
17: Joy of Research 
18: Reasoning 

Module 4

19: Outlines 
20: Review the Plan:
21: Language 
22: Dr E's Grammar
23: Peer Review  
24: Hit Parade 

Module 5

25: About the Exam
26: Mock Final 
27: Exam Prep
28: Graduation 




















































also, if you missed class, see Dr. G's
MLA slide show
for an overview of
MLA citation







































































































































1. Think Twice Before Stealing

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).

2. Plagiarism

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:

Plagiarism is theft of intellectual property. Writers create words and ideas, and they retain rights in what they have created. By publishing their work, writers are granting the right of "fair use" to the public. Fair use rights include the right to read the material, and to republish it for non-commercial use, provided that the republication fully acknowledges the source. Somebody who republishes a writer's words or ideas, without acknowledging the source, is violating that writer's property rights and breaking the law.

Plagiarism is fraud against classmates. Plagiarists falsely represent others' words or ideas as their own. This lie is not harmless. A student who plagiarizes a paper in a course is cheating the other students in the course by competing against them unfairly and perhaps even tempting some of them also to become plagiarists, in order to "keep up." It's as if you and I had a golf match, with a wager, but while you weren't looking I substituted Tiger Woods (the top pro in the world) to take a few swings for me. Plagiarism is also a fraud against the teacher, the school, the employer and everybody who evaluates the plagiarist's skills or knowledge.

Plagiarism is inconsistent with education. A student who plagiarizes a paper is learning how to plagiarize, not learning how to write. Faced with a writing assignment later on, the plagiarist is prepared only for more plagiarism. But continuing to plagiarize assignment after assignment may not always be a possibility, as the final exam in English 101 shows. College writing assignments often are designed to make plagiarism difficult or impossible.

Plagiarists are likely to be caught. Although plagiarism has been widespread in recent years, colleges are fighting back. Papers submitted electronically in courseware like SLN and WebCT are easily profiled against databases containing literally billions of other papers and articles from the internet and from schools everywhere in the world. Anti-plagiarism software, such as that provided by Turnitin.com, finds the unacknowledged source(s) of any plagiarized papers and flags the problems for professors to review. The consequences of being caught include course failure and possible expulsion from school.

Plagiarists live with the knowledge that they have cheated. From a Socratic point of view, this self-destructive poisoning of the mind is perhaps the thing that is most wrong with plagiarism. The plagiarist harms his or her own future happiness and peace of mind. The memory of cheating remains in the plagiarist's thoughts where it hurts self-esteem and confidence forever. The worry about getting caught never dies; many cases have occurred where graduates have been stripped of their degrees after their plagiarisms belatedly have come to light.

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.

4. MLA Citation:
 signal phrases, parenthetical references, and works cited

(Note: Hacker tab 32a discusses signals and parentheticals.
Hacker tab 32b covers works cited pages.)

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 signal phrase introduces the source by signaling to readers that what follows is a quote, paraphrase or summary of a source. In the signal phrase, use the author's name, if you have it, or if the author's name is unknown, use a short title of the source. Also use the present tense or present perfect tense. ("John Doe claims that. . ." or "As John Doe has claimed. . .") Generally avoid the past tense ("John Doe wrote that. . ."). And also make sure to use verbs that are descriptive, not vague. ("John Doe complains that. . ." John Doe has advocated that. . .") Avoid the common freshman mistake of vagueness in imprecise signal phrases like "the book says that..." or "the source tells of..." or, worst of all, "it talks about..." If your hear "Arggh!" it's the sound that teachers make when they read "my source said that . . ." Be definite and descriptive in your signal phrases.

The parenthetical reference comes at the end of the quote, paraphrase or summary to provide the page reference in the source where the original passage is to be found. If for some reason, the signal phrase has not mentioned the author's name or title, then the parenthetical reference must contain the name or title in addition to the page number. (Doe 315). . . A name or title is always required in our text so that our readers will know where to look in the works cited list to find further information about the source. All of the language between a signal phrase and the parenthetical reference that follows it is assumed to be a quote or paraphrase or summary of the source that is identified by that signal phrase and parenthetical. We never stick our own ideas in this sandwich because our readers will think that the ideas come from the source.

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?

Dr. G, does this mean we gotta memorize fifty-six ways to cite?

No, Harvey. The book already has memorized them. All you need to do is look up the right information in the book. Keep Hacker's book throughout your college career, and refer to it whenever you need to cite the sources of your information.

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:

Diskin Clay points out that Socrates, in the "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: 

Socrates, in the "Apology," compares the troubles in his life to the heroic labors of Hercules (Clay 56).

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:

Works Cited

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.  

5. Why You've Seldom Seen MLA Citation

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?

  • Popular writing rarely uses any form of citation--MLA or otherwise. Hence, usually, you can't check the sources that popular writers have used. The popular writer says "trust me." But academic audiences are not trusting. They're skeptical; they demand disclosure of sources.
  • Anything written more than twenty years ago predates the current MLA rules. The former MLA system of citation look a lot different. It relied on footnotes and bibliographies, instead of parenthetical references and works cited lists. 
  • Moreover, not all disciplines follow the language teachers' rules. For example, academics in the field of history decided to keep the footnote-and-bibliography format, not to go along with the MLA when it "modernized" to its present system in the 1980's. Accordingly, most history publications in the US follow what's called the Chicago style of citation. (See Hacker 183-208.) Some college history courses also use Chicago, but a student who has learned MLA rules will find it very easy to learn Chicago.  
  • Most science and social science writing in the US follows the APA style of citation (the rules of the American Psychological Association, given in Hacker 155-182). The APA format is very similar to the MLA format, but a few things, such as publication dates, are handled differently. APA practice is a very easy transition for anybody who knows MLA.  
  • Few foreign publications follow the MLA.  The Modern Language Association is a North American group.
  • Online sources rarely use the MLA since the internet is a more recent development than the MLA rules.  The last MLA revision was in the 1980's. 
  • Some disciplines, such as law, have unique rules. For a listing of US style manuals by profession, see Hacker 228.  
  • Indeed, some publications have proprietary citation formats. If you're running a particular kind of journal for a particular group of readers, you may find that a unique convention works better than MLA, Chicago or APA. Lots of publishers put out their own distinctive rules for manuscript submissions.

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.

Library Assignment #2  Avoid plagiarism by following the MLA rules, as described by Hacker, in writing this assignment. 

Do all of the following: 

. Let's try a second database in TC3's collection, the one that's called InfoTrac OneFile. In InfoTrac, find a second source that bears on the research question that you selected before in Library Assignment #1 (assigned in Lesson 4). The second source should be better than the first one or, if not better, the best source that you can find.

InfoTrac, ProQuest and similar databases contain both jewels and rubbish. They scan into their databases almost every newspaper, magazine and journal they can buy. You can't assume that any source is truthful academic or otherwise good because it is found in one of the databases that TC3 has purchased. Take your time when searching. Remember what makes a "better" source, and insist on finding it.

In your own words, summarize this second source in at least one written paragraph (let's say 3-5 sentences--but write more, if you wish). 

Write a second brief paragraph (again 3-5 sentences--or more, if you wish) in which you evaluate the credibility and research value of the source that you have summarized. Do you think that the source is trustworthy or not? Does it provide good evidence that you can rely on? How much will it help you to answer the research question that you have chosen? Give reasons for your opinion.

. Write a third brief paragraph, telling how this second article is better than the one that you found in Library Assignment #1. In what ways is it better or more useful in a
nswering the research question? 

. End with a works cited list with entries for both of your two sources.

. Email a copy of the full text of the second source to Dr. G. at
Also email the first source, if you failed to do so previously. (Like ProQuest, Info Trac provides a handy emailing button with each article.)

. Submit your completed exercise in SLN CourseSpace on or before the date for Lesson 7.

 Reading Assignment for Lesson 7:
read Plato's short dialogue Crito.

Image left: from an ancient Greek vase, sculptors work on a marble warrior. The image is a copy; dozens of other images in classical Greek art are almost identical to it. 























































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.

gutchess@englishare.net                    Academic writing home page                    Gary Gutchess 2003