Avoiding Plagiarism: Writing With Integrity
February 17, 2015
We give you the hook “avoiding plagiarism” because we know that's going to bring you in. Yes I want to avoid plagiarism. But that's not really the way I approach any kind of work that I do with students on plagiarism. I call it writing with integrity, because I feel that if you write with integrity -- and that’s not an intent, it’s really just some takeaways I have for you -- if you write with integrity you never even have to worry about plagiarism. Because we talk about plagiarism as if it’s a binary state. Either you plagiarized or you didn't. That's really not authorship. As we grow as scholars, as we grow as learners, we pass through stages of authorship. It’s also about who owns what writing and there’s very different perspectives on this. So it’s a super complicated question. But I'm here to talk to you guys about how to do it, how to write with integrity so you don't even have to worry about the plagiarism part.
The way Texas A&M defines plagiarism is “the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit.” That’s pretty straightforward, it seems straightforward. Is it really straightforward? Well you’re talking about multiple submissions-- I’m confused, what’s common knowledge? that's confusing, with all the articles, it becomes part of my verbiage, TurnItIn.com-- all these things complicate what it is that plagiarism really is.
What we’re really all about is preparing you to be scholars. As graduate students you’re in a transition; you’re moving from grad student to a scholar. So everything I’m focusing on today is to help you become part of that scholar group, a peer. So the whole point here is you’re going to be moving from grad student to scholar. This is a great quote: “academic writing in particular calls on writers not simply to express their own idea but to do so as a response to what others have said.” So if you think about it--- when you are writing think about it like a conversation.
As graduate students you probably don't go to parties anymore. Because you’re grad students you’re in the field all the time. But do you remember when you used to have a life and a sense of humor and everything. When you to go to party--- You walk into the room and the party’s already going on. You guys are in the living room, you’re in the kitchen, you’re in the backyard. And people are talking, talking, talking. When you walk in on a conversation what do you usually do first? Introduce yourself and listen. Yes, you introduce yourself and you listen. Have you ever been to a party when someone just walks in and starts blurting out stuff that has nothing to do with the conversation at hand. It’s awkward. Awkward! right? So actually what you do when you want to move from grad student a scholar, you know how you do all that reading? You're trying to figure out what the conversation is all about. And there’s one conversation going on in the living room. There’s one conversation going on in the kitchen that might differ. There’s a conversation going on in the back yard. Lots of different conversations going on and right now where you are, you’re listening. But when you write the journal articles, the thesis, the dissertation that you're going to be writing—then you're going to be joining that conversation. So you don't want to be academically awkward.
Also you know at the party there's always somebody that everybody's listening to their jokes. They’re popular. Everybody wants to be with them and be like them and they laugh at everything they say, right? You know what I'm talking about. Right? Those are the big scholars in your field. What if you don't recognize the big scholars in your field in your work?
Your professor says, “well how come you didn’t cite so and so?” Right? So how to acknowledge that? So what are we doing here? We’re moving into that conversation. We’re listening, we’re reading. I don’t know about you guys but when I first start researching a topic I don't even know who the big dogs are in my field. I don’t even know who the big scholars are. That’s a tough one. Do I have to cite all two hundred people that had that same idea or did the research on that? That’s difficult. So why and how are you going to use sources in academic writing? Why and how?
It's not just about giving credit because somebody else had an idea. That's part of it but you're also paying homage to the researchers who came before you. You didn’t just wake up one day and have a brilliant idea. It's part of a process. The other thing you’re doing is you’re providing a context and foundation for your research. Where did your research come from? What is the foundation for your research? It's not just a matter of a gotcha, “I better cite this person or I’m going to be in trouble”. It's laying the foundation for where your research is coming from. Where did it start and where does it end. What's current, what's been done previous? Why is my research important? Nobody knows why your research is important unless they know where you started from. What’s the foundation, you’re going to bring them forward. And that's either in your introduction, your background, a literature review. It can have lots of different forms, but that's where you’re doing that part. Where does this research fit into the current body of knowledge? What's being done right now?
It could be a framework; it could be a methodology. Maybe there are different methods. Maybe it used to be when we looked at this problem we used this method, but the current method is this way and what I want to do is tweak it. Ok. So the next step is how does my research extend that current body of knowledge on the topic.
Now the last thing is that, sometimes you'll say things and you’ll think “oh my committee knows this” or “my professor knows this, I don’t have to say this.” A lot of times your professor does know it but they want to know that you know it. Does that make sense? So sometimes when you're writing a proposal, some of you are working on proposals, who’s working on a proposal, you’re working on a grant proposal. Sometimes what will happen is they want to know that you know. Do they know? Yea they know, they probably wrote the book on it. But they also want to know that you know. So we’re going to start here with good research practices, because a lot of times when we get in trouble, we’re talking about amassing all those references and they’re massive. Starting with good research practices will make sure that you always write with integrity. So the foundation is I want to get to where I'm part of the conversation, but how do I get there? Well first of all you want to understand what scholars important to your field. Who are big, who are the big dogs. Who are the big players in your field?
I use Google scholar sometimes to find out the cited by. Some of the librarians say “oh I wish you wouldn't say that” but I do just to see. If something cited by two people versus an article that cited by 900 people or other peer-reviewed sources I'll probably look at that one.
Now it may have been cited by 900 other articles because the research is so bad that everybody’s critiquing them, right? But maybe you need to mention that as well. But a way to know also is as you read you’re going to see names come up over and over and over and over again. Make a note of those names. Those people are important. If you leave them out, you may be asking for somebody to ask you the question, “Well why didn’t you cite so and so?”
Learn the writing citation style of your discipline and develop a systematic way of staying organized. I’m going to talk a little more about that in detail too. Understand what scholars are important in your field. Read, read, read. Read, read, read. Read, read read. Read. Ok? Read more and then take notes. Right?
I see mostly undergrads trying to write papers from highlighted PDF files. That is probably the fastest way to plagiarize that I know of. Do you see what I'm saying, because you've got the highlighted PDFs, they’re surrounding you… There’s nothing wrong with highlighting but I think it's the first step, not the last step. You’re writing, writing, writing. You see the highlighted text and you say “I’ll just paraphrase that because it sounds really good and I'm not real sure I understand what they’re saying anyway.” I always think taking notes is the best way to go. You should be able to tell your mom what the scholar says in the article. Your mom might not understand it, but if you can articulate it then you can write it. Does that mean you have to cite it? Absolutely. But it will be in your voice. Does that make sense?
Articulate the conversations taking place among the scholars. What’s everybody saying in the living room? Consult your subject librarians. Wow, subject librarians are very helpful. They're lonely, they want to talk to you. You don't talk to them. You never call. You never come by to see your subject librarian. They want to see you. Go see them. They can help you dig deeper. So you can maybe get so far with your research and then you hit a brick wall. “I can't find anything in my field.” Go to the subject librarian, see if you can dig a little deeper--you can find better articles, more high quality articles.
And consult your professors. A lot of times a quick conversation with a professor can help a lot. Learn the writing citation style of your discipline. Ok, you guys read a lot of those PDF articles right? I mean honestly, let's be honest, aren’t they boring sometimes? I mean really, you know. Wouldn’t you rather… that’s why we get puppies. So we can go do other things, fun things, right. So we don’t have to read all those boring articles. So as you’re taking notes, that’ll keep you engaged in the close reading, also read for style. What do I mean by style? I’ll tell you that in a minute.
You can make an easy-to-reference guide for writing in your discipline. As you read in your discipline you're going to want to note whether you're going to be using mostly summary, a lot of direct quotes, not very many, mostly paraphrase, mostly summary. You’ll know as you read and you want to make notes about that. Because as you write you want to write in the style of your discipline. It gives you credibility. It makes you seem like one of them in the living room.
What about the uses of ‘I’ or ‘we’? What is recognized as appropriate in your own discipline? Now some of you guys are in cross disciplinary or interdisciplinary. In wildlife and fisheries you may see a little of both, depending on the direction of your study. If you're in psychology you may see a little bit of both. In maybe a quantitative study you may not see ‘we’ being used. You also may see it being used in certain sections of the piece. So for example you won't see it… you might see it in the intro and in the discussion, but you won’t see it used in the methods. That's getting pretty tricky, right. Have you guys thought about writing in your discipline to that granular a level? As far as style? Have you guys ever thought about that? It's okay if you haven't. Most of us are just trying to slog through the day. We’re to get through the day we’re trying to get our data out of the field, we’re just trying to make it. But I’m going to tell you that it makes it easier if as you are reading these articles you’re also picking up style. Now at first are you pretending to write in the style? Are you appropriating it? Sure, but eventually it becomes natural. So when your professor comes back to you and says “you're not writing academically”--- because I hear that. A lot of students will come to me and say my professor tells me that I'm not writing properly. Well you look at it and no, there are no grammar problems. But you're not writing as your professor expects you to be writing based on your discipline. See what I’m saying. So that’s something you can do on a rainy day when you can’t go in the field and you have to read all those articles. I say make an easy to reference guide for writing in your discipline. Even down to the verbs. In psychology you'll see the words “argue”, “claim” -- but in life sciences you’re not going to see those verbs. You’re going to see “observe”, “concluded”. Ok? Even down to that, you can make a list for yourself. Make it easy, don't make it hard. You know I always think work smarter not harder. Right? And then you’ll have time to go to parties again and have a better sense of humor.
Now learn what constitutes common knowledge in your discipline. Super difficult, super difficult. Common knowledge – anybody in education? Ok, I’m going to give you an example. Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read. Ok? You’re going to note what is cited and what is not cited. Theories are always cited. But in education there are a couple of theories, I’m going to pull a couple out for you and give you an example. When we say when we use the term in education “scaffolding” we don't usually cite it; it’s common knowledge in the field.
And what that means is: a student knows something, and then you lead them to the next point of knowing something, and the next point. It’s the distance between what he knows, what he already knows, and then bridging that gap, right. But there is a theory by Vygotsky, the “Zone of Approximate Development”---- that is always cited. You’re never NOT going to see that cited. It is a big theory. It is a big theory, a well-known theory. So everybody cites that theory.
Why that happens, I'm not sure. I believe that scaffolding-- maybe it wasn't a separate….you know, maybe it came out of an article, it was cited. But I don't know. Maybe it became so commonplace, such commonplace practice in education that it became generic like tissue. Like Kleenex and tissue right? But instead of the Kleenex, you cite the Kleenex, now it’s just regular generic tissue. I don't know. But the only way I would know that is by all the reading I did as a grad student in my field.
The best thing you can do for yourself it is to get organized and stay organized. Get organized and stay organized. I'm saying that because I have problems with organization. And I know you guys, I know you guys that if I looked in the trunk your car I’d find PDFs. Right? If I looked in your backpack, more PDFs. If I looked in your office, more PDFs. If I looked in your study carrel, more PDFs. Your PDF hoarders, you’re grad students, I know that. It’s natural, it comes naturally. Have you ever gotten to write the paper or you’re beginning to write the paper and you’re kinda trying to figure it out, and you go, “Where did I put that PDF?” anybody do that before? You ok, ok all right now the truth is coming out. I've done that before or “where’s the reference for that, [sigh] where’s the reference for that.” And then you have to look it up again. It’s easy to look it up. I’m not saying it’s hard to look up, but didn’t that just take you ten minutes you didn’t want to spend on that? Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, five minutes here, twenty minutes there. If you added up all the time you spent backtracking… you would save hours in writing some of these theses and dissertations.
So let's talk a little bit about how to stay organized. We have a video on our YouTube site and it's about how to use Excel, how many of you guys are familiar with Excel? Ok. Most of you guys.
Ok. If you're reading from your sources and you’re highlighting or you guys are in fields where you’re mostly summarizing things, what did that person say, what was that concept. You go to the Excel spreadsheet and you put a note in there. You categorize it. Source --- note 1 ---note 2 --- note 3. Those categories at the end--- if you're working on a piece--- you said you’re in social sciences, what field are you in? Agriculture economics. So let's say you’re doing a piece where you're putting…maybe there are three schools of thought on the issue you're looking at. Ok, category 1 is “demographics”, category 2 is “rural something or other” category 3… You can take notes and then say what category it’s in. Now when you put all of this together and you summarize the concept, and you go note 1, note 2, note 3, ok what happens at the end--- you're doing all your reading and keeping all notes organized. Then how do you write the intro or the paper?
Yea, you got your categories and it kinda sets up your organizational structure. Ok. So you say this person said this about this, this person said this about this and I’m going to put all of this in section one. When you do it piecemeal like this and you’ve already processed and synthesize the information, the paper’s going to write itself.
Alright that's one thing. The other thing is using Refworks, EndNote, Zotero, whatever program you think is user friendly for you, to keep all of your references-- at least the citations-- in one place. Now, Refworks you can find on the library website. It is a service, so you can, you sign up for the service. And now EndNote--- you can get that from software.tamu.edu. You know from wherever you get the other software. It’s free. A lot of the science folks use that one because it has so many journal formats it can spit out. But basically on both you can keep your PDFs electronically attached to your references as well. So if you don't want to print them out and put binders together, you can put them in the program's too. Zotero works with Firefox, it’s also a really good way of keeping up with your references. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. Do something that works for you. Because if you get to the end of your thesis and you have to… I mean nobody types anymore you all, I’m just saying. So if you get to the end and you have to do all that work… It should be a matter of just saying ok all my references are here. This is my thesis, this is my dissertation, this is my seminar paper, this is my journal article. I want it in AP sixth edition. Oh no, I want it in AP the fifth edition. Oh no, I want it in MLA. You just press the button and pick what format you want it in.
Version your drafts, especially if you’re talking about academic integrity. I always version my drafts and I always keep each version. That way if there's anything, any question about my work I can show exactly where I started and where I came from. So I version every piece of my work and I keep it in a safe place. Also you may want to go back. Oh really, I don't like version 4, I really want version 2. If you print references, organize them in binders and boxes. I am a paper person so I had big binders and I have them alphabetically coordinated for all my dissertation articles. And I like those. I keep those because I write articles from that.
So how do you respond to others? How do you use those sources? Let's get into some of the practical details. Quoting is using the exact words from the source. I mean use the exact word from the source. You absolutely have to have the quotation marks around it. Now sometimes with methods that tends to be a little bit difficult, so you really need to understand your field. So for example in soil and crop sciences there's a real possibility that you’re are doing a method that somebody else has done. There really is only one way of saying that. You know I mean? But for a lot of us in the social sciences and humanities you know, I mean, quoting is quoting. And people say well “what is it? Is it five words? Is it four words, is it six words”? Don’t be doing the math. Don’t ask those questions. You need to put it in your own words otherwise your voice doesn't come through.
Paraphrasing. Dangerous, dangerous stuff. Danger Danger, OK? This is where I see students get in trouble with plagiarism is paraphrasing. Because paraphrasing is a one to one relationship-- it's just in other words, it’s in your words. Paraphrasing comes in very, very handy when you are trying to translate technical material to a lay audience. You can see that right? My audience is not going to understand this concept or this definition, this term unless I make it more user-friendly. It's a one to one relationship. But, where I see students get into the most trouble with plagiarism is because they change a few words around, they cite the source, they don't put the quotation marks and they get taken to the honor council for plagiarism. “But I was paraphrasing!” But you used words from the source and you didn't do it properly. “But I put the citation!” But you didn't put this. And yes you credited the idea but no you did not credit the words. Does that make sense? You credited the idea, you did it halfway. You credited the idea but you didn't credit the words. It's really, really difficult. Very difficult.
Summary. Most of you guys are going to be using summary most of the time and that's why that Excel spreadsheet is so cool. You’re summarizing the concepts. Summary is just providing the main argument or the main idea in your own words. Do you cite it? Yes. You still cite it, but it's in your own words.
So let's go through a little bit of detail on this. Quotations have three parts. Three parts. The source, the material that documents the sources such as the page number, author, whatnot. The actual quote, the material taken from the text, with the quotation marks and a tag which is the material that explains the quote. That's a really nice way of looking at it. Here's an example. This is a quotation from “Rereading Faulkner: Authority, Criticism and The Sound and the Fury”.
As Philip Weinstein noted in the late 1980s-- that is green. So anything that is green is referring to where that stuff came from. Does that make sense? And you see the eleven? The blue is the actual direct words from the source and that's in quotation marks. Do you see that part? The green also refers back --Godden noted the same problem, “I make no excuse for attributing an active consciousness to Benjy. Too many readers continue to listen to…” don’t even worry about what this is really saying--- “to the dismissals of Faulkner’s appendix and of his Paris Review interview” ---close quote, where did that come from, source 12.
Ok. In red is the tag where this person is explaining all that quoted material. So you can do it just like that: where did it come from, a quote and what it means. Now the burden…if you do use quotes and a lot of you guys are in the sciences and won’t have any quotes in any of your stuff. But if you happen to do it, if you’re in the social sciences like psychology or education or something like that you will maybe pull some quotes. The burden to explain the quote is not on the reader, it's on you, the writer. So that red material, it's incumbent upon this author to explain that quoted material, ok?
Ok. Let's move on. Paraphrasing, paraphrasing. Take a look at this: childhood lead poisoning has declined steadily since 1970--this is from a Newsweek article—because cars stopped spewing leaded exhaust into the environment and lead paint was formally banned. Yet 40 percent of the nation's homes still contain lead paint from the first half of the 20th century, and 25 percent still pose significant health hazards.
Now I’d like for you to read paraphrase one and paraphrase two and tell me which one is the better paraphrase. Which one seems like it's kind of cheaty, if I can say that word, it’s not a real word, but which one seems kind of cheaty and which one seems like the really well-done paraphrase? What do you think? Which one do you like better? The second one, yea. Why don’t you like the first one? What’s the deal with the first one? It's the same the order, they changed a couple of words around. Looks like they right clicked on Microsoft word and threw on some words around. It may or may not be plagiarism in certain contexts, but isn’t it terrible writing too? Just terrible, terrible right? So you want to do better than that, ok. Writing with integrity means doing better.
You guys are going to be using a lot of summary. Well how do you summarize? How do you do that? What happens when you read all these articles and you're pulling the main points from the articles. You’re pulling methods from the articles, you’re pulling--- in the ecology maybe you're pulling like this study's results or this study’s methods. When I work with students in education sometimes they have a hard time they always only want to talk about results. But what I want to see in the literature review, I also want to see methods. Like how do I know about the results until I see what and how what you did as well? So there are all kinds of ways you can talk about the resources that you're using.
So this is some examples of how to work with what other people say. What other scholars say. What do experts in the field say about your topic? Here, a number of scholars have found that children with autism are sensitive to loud noise. What are commonplace opinions on your topic? Most doctors assert that vaccinations are necessary for young children. What is the commonplace opinion? What do others imply or assume? Well from my reading I found that some Title IX opponents assume that most young women simply do not want to play sports at the college level. What are both sides of the argument? Maybe I need to give both sides of the argument when I'm talking about this. Although proponents of Proposition 12 believe that their taxes will be lowered, opponents state that those savings will be lost because the cost of city services will ultimately increase. Now the little bullet at the bottom it says each response would probably need a citation. And it may have one of those longer citations. So I found that in three sources so maybe I have three authors listed? It’s a possibility. Ok, I'm just using that as an example. I don't want to get too much into citation because all you guys have different citation styles and that would just be a whole other conversation.
Now what are we doing here, think about that party. Alright? You went to the party. You listened to the conversation. You didn't say anything at the party. You went home and told your roommate what everybody was talking about at the party. See what I’m saying? And because you listened so well you can use your own words to tell your roommate what everybody said at the party. Now, you're going to attribute the fact, you’re not just going to say, “some guy said this.” You’re going to say, “Oh you wouldn’t believe what Fred said about this.” ---He’s the big dog scholar--- “Oh Fred you know he’s so funny, he said…” You know, so that’s how you do it, that’s how you do it in your paper. You become part of that scholarship. You listen and report. But in your own research, when you do your own research, when you get your own data, that's when you say, “and here's what I have to say.” That's when you start talking. Right now all we're dealing with, right now, is what other people say. Ok? And how to integrate that without violating principles or honor code or whatever.
But ultimately my intent is to show you how easy it is and how practical it is to bring these sources into your own argument and then you’re going to say, “and what do I say about it?” So at the end of your introduction or your literature review introduction or background you’re going to say “and my research looks at, builds on scholar X's work in this field and does this.” And your committee is going to say “Bravo, brilliant, brilliant” we hope right? No, they’re going to give you critique. That's what they're there for. They’re going to say “ok tweak this, tweak this. Look at this group, look at this group, change this variable and then you’re good to go.” That's what they're expecting, that’s what they’re looking for.
When you join that conversation then, you're looking at what does the research say about the topic? What are the different perspectives on the topic? What research provides the foundation for my research? Does my research contradict previous research? How does my research contribute new information to the current body of research on my topic? That's when you join that conversation. You go back to that party and now you start talking. That’s a little bit beyond where we're going with this. Because, after you get back from the field, when you get your data and look at your results and say “Ok, this is what I found.” That’s when you start that part of it.
There are some precepts on this that are just super practical. If you want to prevent, if you want to avoid it and not get yourself in a bind, of course you’re going to write with integrity. But these things you’re also going to want to do. Plan ahead. Stay organized. It's not easy to do at times when you’re in graduate school, but take the time to do it. You’ll really be happy later on. Read your articles in your field and learn how scholars in your discipline discuss their research. We talked about that. Take accurate notes from your sources and pay attention to detail. An eye for detail will really help here.
Take the time to learn and understand your source material before you write about it. Talk about your ideas before you write them down to help you put your ideas in your words. If you cannot articulate it, you probably don't understand it. If you can't say it, you probably don't understand it. So go back to the source, take more notes and see if you can articulate it again. Revise your work, write, read your work. Hard to do. When we write something we want it to be over with. Don’t we want it to be over with? I just want it to be over with, it has to go, it has to go away, right?
One of the things that professors sometimes are very good about doing with their students and sometimes they just don't think about it, but when they write journal articles, they revise. We always think about our professors and say “Ok, they write it, they turn it in, it’s published, they’re so brilliant and I'll never be able to be there. I'll never do that.” You don’t see them in their office late when they’re revising an article that got a “Yes, we’ll accept this but you have to change this that and the other.” Or before they even send it out, they send it to another colleague to read or something like that. These things happen, everybody revises. Nobody writes a first draft ready to be published. And if they do I want to talk to them. Because I want their microchip in my head or something like that because that just doesn't happen. It's an iterative process so don't worry if your first pass is not a very good pass. That's okay. Revise the work, keep reading, keep reading it. And I read it out loud and I read it to somebody and with somebody. It's a community thing. Get a lot of opinions. I never send anything out without somebody else looking at and I do this for a living.
If you have questions about the accuracy or fairness of a paraphrase or a summary, I would ask your professor before you hand in the assignment and say “look Dr. So and So, I'm really a little confused about this. I don't know if I even understand the ideas really well. This is my stab at it, could you take a look at it and give me feedback before I turn it in, because I don't want to get in trouble with plagiarism.”
Take your academic work seriously. Of course you take your academic work seriously. But take your academic writing seriously. If you do want to be a professor, but even if you want to go into industry you'll be writing a lot more than you think you will. It's your responsibility for knowing the rules. It’s kind of like driving you know, “Officer, I didn’t know what the speed limit was” and he doesn't care. They never care. Sometimes it’s the same way. They want you to take on that responsibility in knowing what is an academic violation and what isn't. Different disciplines do things differently. Be very familiar with your field. We’re at the writing center. If you need any help, let us know. Come by anytime and ask any questions you have.
And best of luck, I'm really happy you came today. Thanks.