Graduate Writing Series: Academic Integrity, Joining Scholarly Conversations
I’m going to make a connection between Hip Hop music and citing sources. I don’t know if you guys know it, but there is a huge connection between Hip Hop and citing sources. Basically Hip Hop takes a sample from other music and integrates it into the song. And there are certain rules to follow. Now I don’t know all the rules for Hip Hop, so I did a lot of reading, and learned you can’t do this, you can do this, you better not do this… And I thought that’s a lot like scholarly writing. Before you get into the academy or the university, especially those folks who come back to grad school from the real world, corporate or whatever–well, we who spend our lives in Academia, we know what the rules are. We know where the boundries are. A lot of the professors I talk to assume that every student in class knows the rules. I wouldn’t make it in the hip hop world anyway, even if I knew the rules. But this idea of traversing through different kinds of groups, communities in practice, when we come to an institution and the rules are set for years and years and all of a sudden, “I didn’t know you should do that, I didn’t know you should do this.”
You find a bunch of sources. You put them together. You’re not really sure you understand the material. I was working with a student the other day. She was doing a paper on the Big Bang theory and I said why don’t you put down all your papers, turn over everything. All of your sources, all of your papers. Don’t look at them. Tell me about the Big Bang theory, as if you were talking to your mom or somebody like that. And she said I can’t explain it to you. I can’t, I don’t understand it myself. This is the area, this gap, where it’s really easy to fall into plagiarism because the writer is depending on sources for all the information and is not synthesizing the information. Whoever is writing the paper is going to lose his or her voice. Where is your voice if all of your work is another scholar’s work?
So you begin with ‘you’re joining the conversation.’ You’re joining the academic conversation. You have to understand what the conversation is. You have to understand what your ideas in the conversation are. How are you going to contribute to that conversation. And then how to show how your ideas came from another person’s or group of people’s work.
They say, I say. It’s by Graff and Birkenstein and a lot of material in this Power Point came from that book and it demystifies academic writing. So how do you participate in this conversation? When you publish, you’re talking to a group of scholars. How do you get there? Here’s one way to look at it. Sources are the conversation that is going on in the kitchen when you walk in. There is an academic conversation going on and then you walk in and try to listen. What are the people saying about that topic?
One student said to me, “I have a new idea, I have an idea, and it’s my theory and I know it’s an original idea.” And I said, “that’s a real possibility.”
And he said, “How do I cite, then, if it’s my idea?”
And I said to him, “New ideas and concepts don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not like you just wake up one day and the heavens open up and, I have a new idea!”
It might happen that way in your head. But if you think about it, you’ve been planning for this new idea with all of your reading and all of your scholarship and all of those classes you took. You’ve come to this point. So I said to him, “Look, give credit and show how your ideas emerged from the other ideas. It’s part of the conversation. It’s how you get into the conversation.
Not giving attribution to the source, that’s plagiarism. Turning in somebody else’s work as your own, that’s plagiarism. Faking sources—we see this on the news a lot.
One of the things I see a lot in student papers is this: it’s fully cited, there’s nothing wrong with it in terms of plagiarism, it’s just badly put together. It’s ill formed because a lot of students don’t know how to integrate a quote into the conversation. So there will just be this quote. What a lot of students need to work on is there own voice in the conversation. Really young students, like high school or even freshman students have a lot of difficulty with this because they haven’t found their voices yet. They are not sure what they have to say about it.
So it’s very difficult. So they have ‘quote’—transition–‘quote’—transition–‘quote’. It can feel schizophrenic, (laughter) all these voices in my head! Where do you find your voice? What you have to do is even when you’re directly quoting somebody, you’re introducing it with your voice. You’re putting it into the conversation. You put the quote in then you explain. If it’s going to be quoted, there needs to be a reason why. Why isn’t paraphrasing good enough? Why aren’t you just reporting the results of the study? This is why the student didn’t understand the Big Bang theory. She was relying on so many sources, even if they’re cited correctly, she didn’t have to think about what the Big Bang theory really meant.
This is where it gets a little tricky. Really what you’re trying to do is transform it for understanding, maybe it’s for a different audience. I couldn’t understand the chemical engineering documents you brought to me, maybe you need to explain the concept to me as a consumer. Or horticulture, I probably wouldn’t understand a lot of what you’d tell me in a journal, but maybe there’s some information that I need to know so I don’t kill all my plants.
Summarizing is. . . A lot of what you’ll be doing is summarizing, in terms of grad school, no doubt about it. This is the argument here and that is the argument there and so forth. That requires a lot of synthesis and a lot of thought. I’ve been to workshops and worked with faculty who have a lot of difficulty with summarizing. It takes a lot of thought. There is no short cut around it.
It provides you creditability. It gives credit or it pays homage to scholars– this person has spent his or her life work devoted to studying this topic. Why is the research important? What research provides a framework for your research? If you have a new idea, you want to buttress that idea by looking at other sources and saying, “what’s the significance of my research? Well, everybody else who has done this has not got it quite right. Everything that has come before is not adequate.” Maybe my topic is completely different, but this person used this framework and it fits with mine.
This is what I like to start with: integrated source material. What do other scholars say about your topic? And you think, “do I agree with that idea?” When you talk about ‘they say’, what can you do? Acknowledge, agree, argue, explain, demonstrate. . . Then you say, “This scholar says, demonstrates, emphasizes”. It’s easy to cite sources when you see it as part of the conversation. Now, introducing quotations: Scholar x states “yada.” Scholar y disagrees and “huma huma.” Now you have what they say, what do I say about it? How do I concede a point, because ethos is a part of it too. How do you present what your persona is. Don’t get stuck on the mechanics of it all because you can use your guidebook or stylebook for that. Think about how you’re going to talk to your professors, how are you going to talk to the scholars in your field. Clarify your argument, put yourself in the conversation. Your voice has to be an integral part of the conversation, even if you don’t feel like you deserve it. These are your ideas. You deserve to be a part of the conversation. Then show how you built upon the other scholars’ ideas. And get to your own conclusion, because that’s what you do in grad school, right? Now you are presenting that fact that you know both sides of the issue. And then you move forward with your own voice. You make a name for yourself.