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Plagiarism: Strategies in Research and Writing

Learning Commons LOGO-WEB2 smallWhat do Jane Goodall, Martin Luther King Jr., Vladimir Putin, Stephen Harper, George Harrison, J.K. Rowling, Maureen Dowd, and Joe Biden all have in common?

All of the above, as well as countless others, have been accused of plagiarizing their sources.

While we tend to think of plagiarism as some secret process done in the dark of night to cover for shoddy work, it is possible to engage in plagiarism simply by trying to incorporate information from sources you did not fully read or understand. Without a good grasp of your source and your topic, it can become all too easy to plagiarize your source without intending to be dishonest.

With this in mind we welcome Steven Schultz from the Writing Center with a few words about how to effectively use and attribute sources in your next paper.

Start by embracing the research process. Locate sources early and incorporate them into the very first draft of a paper. This approach produces better writing than shoehorning a couple quotes into the final version and gives you time to understand each source and its relationship to your topic. Sure, some sources—numbers, data, and statistics—may appear straightforward enough, but complex thinkers such as St. Augustine, Friedrich Nietzsche and Adrienne Rich probably won’t be. Also, use sources for more than just garden-variety support by including some whose perspective on your topic diverges from your own. Critical debate enriches a paper.

Writers use three techniques to integrate outside sources: summary, paraphrase, and direct quotation. An effective writer chooses among them like a painter chooses among paintbrushes with bristles ranging from broad to fine: each technique conveys a different level of detail. A summary offers the broadest overview of a source by restating a main idea, thesis statement, or a lengthy passage. Think of summary as the view from an airplane cruising at 30,000 feet: big features are enhanced but small ones may be invisible. Summary is effective technique for condensing long sources such as a research study or a book chapter.

Quotation is the opposite of summary: it preserves the original writer’s exact words and reproduces all the original detail. Quote when rephrasing an idea would lessen its impact or when including the original writer’s words enhances your credibility. We quote Ernest Hemingway, not paraphrase him.

Paraphrasing someone else’s idea means being able to explain it in your own words, not just restate it. If a writer includes an idea from an outside source by changing a few though not all of the words from the original but still provides a citation, is that an acceptable paraphrase? Not so much. Faulty paraphrases like this are called “patchwriting,” a term used to describe writing that attempts to paraphrase a source but fails because it either 1) retains most of its wording from the original source or 2) replaces select key terms with synonyms but otherwise reproduces the source’s syntax. Both are problems and usually happen when a writer doesn’t fully comprehend the material she or he is attempting to paraphrase. In fact, done well, paraphrasing is a great way to draw attention to a particular facet of an idea or offer a new interpretation of it.

Lastly, vary how you use these techniques. Not only will it make your writing style more engaging, but by adapting your technique to each source’s purpose, you’ll demonstrate to your audience that you’ve thought about each source’s unique relationship to your argument and therefore be more persuasive.

Are you having problems working with your sources? If so it is time to contact the Writing Center and make an appointment to work with one of their phenomenal tutors. Appointments can be made by phone at 610-519-4604 or in person at the Writing Center in the Learning Commons on Falvey’s 2nd floor. Act fast though because appointment slots fill quickly.

Robin Bowles is a research librarian on the Academic Integration Team and a liaison librarian to the Villanova University School of Nursing.

 

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Last Modified: April 30, 2013