Appropriate Crediting of Sources: Another Key to Avoiding Plagiarism

The Good News About Citing Sources

Sources Establish Credibility

Although we have been speaking about the negative reasons for avoiding plagiarism, the positive reasons to do so are even more important to students who want to achieve good grades.
Citing sources actually makes your work look more academic and positions it within the on-going scholarly conversation or debate in your discipline; it provides an authority to back up your arguments because citations create the impression that your own argument is founded logically and systematically on previous work (and hence, credible). As a result, in many subjects, the more you reference the more scholarly your paper will be. 
  • Scholars use citations to show they are legitimate practitioners in the field. By citing, they indicate that they know what others are doing on the same topic - that they're keeping abreast of current ideas and are up-to-date in their coverage of recent research
  • Scholars use citations to show what side of an issue they are on
  • Scholars use citations to imply that other learned thinkers would be in agreement with their ideas
  • Scholars use citations to provide other sorts of evidence to back up their claims
  • Scholars use citations to give examples of positions opposed to or slightly different from theirs

Proper Referencing Highlights Analytical Thinking, and the Student's Voice

No matter what the discipline, understanding about the practice of referencing is part of academic literacy; it represents an understanding of the way academics construct knowledge. It is also part of the rhetoric of academia.(Don’t forget that the way academics present their work is aimed at persuading their readers that their ideas are good ones, and that persuasion is done by intellectual means, not emotional ones.) 

Many students worry that when they reference every idea or word from other scholars their papers look like nothing but a list of other authors' work, without anything of their own. As a result, one of the ways they may attempt to claim ownership of their work is by hiding where some of their ideas come from - or plagiarizing. What the following section will address is the complicated task of developing authorial voice (by "voice' we mean that the paper is really an expression of your own viewpoint, argument, opinion; it's what you really believe and is your own particular take on a question as opposed to someone else's). At the same time as you are making your voice heard, you are also constructing a paper based on the works of the other scholars who have written on the topic before you. In a way, understanding the logic of referencing, why you cite where you get your information, can help you with this.
One of the basic reasons why undergraduate students have so much difficulty creating a research paper that at the same time appears to be an amalgam of other people's work and their own original argument, is that they often do their own library research looking only for information about their subject (individual facts and issues). They forget that the articles and books they read are written by authors and that those authors have interpreted information and make claims - claims with which others might disagree. People who look only for information or facts are much more likely to virtually absent themselves and their vision from their own papers - and as a result worry that all they are doing is listing other people's work.
What critical and analytical readers do when reading research literature is to identify, sort, and evaluate the claims made by authors who are engaged in a conversation, or a debate with each other through their work. They see knowledge in a field as a continual process, with ideas being presented that can be questioned and debated. By looking at learning in that way, they can analyze the issue and work out their own positions. So when you are looking at the texts you read when you do library research, by referring to the authors' positions, and comparing and contrasting them, you can begin to take a position that is yours alone, you develop a writer's voice. It's your paper, not a list of other's work: you have a thesis and you refer to these other authors when you need them to help support your thesis, or to show that, although others might disagree with you, your position is more valid.

Marking the Boundaries of Sources Shines a Spotlight on Your Own Arguments

  • Signal the approach of a short quotation or paraphrase of an author's idea with a phrase, clause, or a sentence or two.

    For example, in a Fine Art paper discussing the influence of Cezanne on other painters, you might say:

    "Cezanne's influence on Matisse can be seen in the latter's painting Bathers with a Turtle (1908), where three large nudes are pictured on a blue/blue-green background. Matisse was not the only artist influenced by Cezanne. As Hilary Spurling notes, speaking of the way Cezanne's work was received by French painters in 1907. '[a] craze for blue swept the easels of Montmartre and Montparnasse. Groups of massive bathers or blue nudes cropped up on all sides (1998, 371).'"

    The claim you are making is your own: that Cezanne's influence on Matisse's painting is obvious, and particularly so in this painting and this is highlighted by your introduction here, which will probably go on to show other reasons why you think your argument is a good one. Your claim is being supported by Hilary Spurling's warrant that many French painters were influenced by Cezanne at the time, and like Matisse, were producing paintings with large nude bathers.

  • Make sure that you mark the beginning and the end of the sources you are quoting or paraphrasing, so that readers know where your ideas end and the other authors' begin and end. This is especially important in the case of unquoted material, because there is no punctuation marker to indicate the boundary between your work and another's.

    Let's take our previous example but instead of quoting we will paraphrase the information in Spurling's book. Now our text might read as follows:
    "Cezanne's influence on Matisse can be seen in the latter's painting Bathers with a Turtle (1908), where three large nudes are pictured on a blue/blue-green background. Other painters also felt this influence. As Hilary Spurling has noted in The Unknown Matisse, many other painters were imitating Cezanne's style, subject matter, and palette at this time (1998, 371). If we look at other paintings both by Matisse and others, we can see...."
    Here we are still marking the boundaries of our paraphrase in the beginning by announcing where we got the information from (Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse) and also at the end (1998, 371). No one could misinterpret what is our own argument and what is the information we have taken from Spurling's book.
  • Explaining what other authors' ideas mean in the context of your paper and using their work to support your arguments really separates the thrust of your own argument from the sources you are using, but an even more arresting way of using sources to foreground your own understanding and analysis of a situation is to compare and contrast the views of other authors, adding your own comments, critique, or observations. This sort of discussion of any contentious issues in the field can add immeasurably to the critical and analytical level of your paper. Imagine, for instance, that there was an author who disagreed with Hilary Spurling's comment above about the widespread influence of Cezanne on other French artists. This would be the perfect thing to highlight in your own paper, noting which argument you thought was the most plausible (and again, saying why you were advancing the argument you were promoting).

    In such a situation you might say:
    "Cezanne's influence on Matisse can be seen in the latter's painting Bathers with a Turtle (1908), where three large nudes are pictured on a blue/blue-green background. Other painters also felt this influence. Hilary Spurling's comment that many other painters were imitating Cezanne's style, subject matter, and palette in 1907(1998, 371) supports this argument. Although John Doe disagrees with this interpretation, and suggests that x, x, and x were also explanations for changes in painting style occurring at this time (Doe, 1999), this explanation overlooks the biographical evidence, particularly the fact that Matisse, although poor, had purchased Cezanne's Three Bathers in 1899 (Spurling, 181-2) and [other evidence to support your side of the case follows].... If we look at other works, both by Matisse and his fellow painters, we can see...."
    To sum up, you can see that by citing the source in the examples above, the writer has achieved a rhetorical success, and convinced readers that the paper's argument is both scholarly and reasonable. Without those citations, the argument would be much less solid, much less believable.

Continue on to the Citation and Referencing Quiz