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Halt! This is the Copyright Police! Plagiarists Will Be Shot!
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Plagiarism, stealing other people's ideas. Copyright theft, stealing anything else created by someone else. Citation, telling people where your information came from.

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    Material prepared by Margaret Procter, Coordinator of Writing Support,
    for use at the University of Toronto.

    Updated September 22, 1997
    Reprinted with permission of the author.

    You've already heard the warnings about plagiarism. Obviously it's against the rules to buy essays or copy chunks from your friend's homework, and it's also plagiarism to borrow passages from books or articles without identifying them. In any case, you need to show your own thinking, not just create a patchwork of borrowed ideas. But you may still be wondering how you're supposed to give proper references to all the reading you've done and all the ideas you've encountered.

    The point of documenting sources in academic papers is not just to avoid unpleasant visits to the Dean's office, but to demonstrate that you know what is going on in your field of study. It's also a courtesy to your readers because it helps them consult the material you've found. So mentioning what others have said doesn't lessen the credit you get for your own thinking--in fact, it adds to your credibility.

    That's not to say that questions about ownership of ideas are simple. The different systems for typing up references are admittedly a nuisance (the file Documentation Formats explains basic formats), but the real challenge is establishing the relationship of your thinking to the reading you've done. Here are some common questions and basic answers.

    1. Can't I avoid problems just by listing every source in the bibliography? No, you need to integrate your acknowledgements into what you're saying. Give the reference as soon as you've mentioned the idea you are using. (Don't wait till the end of the paragraph.) That may mean naming authors ("X says" and "Y argues against X,") and then going on to make your own comment. The examples in this file and the one on Documentation Formats show various wordings.

    2. If I put the ideas into my own words, do I still have to clog up my pages with all those names and numbers? Sorry--yes, you do. In academic papers, you need to keep mentioning authors and pages and dates to show how your ideas are related to those of the experts. It's sensible to use your own words to save space and to help connect ideas smoothly. But whether you quote a passage directly in quotation marks, paraphrase it closely in your own words, or just summarize it rapidly, you need to identify the source then and there.

    3. But I didn't know anything about the subject until I started this paper. So do I have to give a reference for every point I make? You're safer to over-reference than to skimp. But you can cut down the clutter by recognizing that some ideas are "common knowledge" in the field--that is, taken for granted by people knowledgeable about the topic. Facts easily found in reference books are considered common knowledge: the date of the Armistice for World War I, for example, or the present population of Canada. For such facts, you don't need to name a specific source, even if you learned them only when doing your research. In some disciplines, information covered in class lectures doesn't need acknowledgement. Some interpretive ideas may also be so well accepted that they don't need referencing--that Picasso is a distinguished modernist painter, for instance, or that smoking is harmful to health. Check with your professor or TA if you're in doubt whether a specific point is considered common knowledge in your field.

    4. How can I tell what's my own idea and what has come from something I read? Careful note-taking helps, so you know what names and dates to attach to specific ideas. It's worthwhile to write summarizing notes in your own words, putting quotation marks around any specific wordings you might want to quote. And you should make a deliberate effort, as you go through your readings, to note connections among ideas, especially contrasts and disagreements, as well as jotting down questions and thoughts of your own. Then, as you write, if you find that you seem to be following one or two sources too closely, deliberately look back in your notes for other sources that take different views--than write about why the differences exist.

    5. So what exactly do I have to document? With experience reading academic prose, you'll soon get used to the ways writers in your field refer to their sources. Here are the main times you should give acknowledgements. (You'll notice many different formats in these examples. See the file on Documentation Formats for explanations.)

    a. Quotations, paraphrases, or summaries: Don't waste space on long quotations. In literary studies, quote a few words of the work you're analysing and comment on them. In other disciplines, quote only when the original words are especially memorable. In most cases, use your own words to summarize the idea you want to discuss, emphasizing the points relevant to your argument. But be sure to name sources even when you are not using the exact original words. It's often a good idea to mention the author's name to gain some reflected authority and to indicate where the borrowing starts and stops.

    e.g. As Morris puts it in The Human Zoo (1983), "we can always be sure that today's daring innovation will be tomorrow's respectability" (p. 189). [APA system]
    e.g. Northrop Frye discusses comedy in terms of the spring spirit, which he defines as the infusion of new life and hope into human awareness of universal problems.7 The ending of The Tempest fits this pattern. [traditional endnote or footnote system]

    b. Specific facts used as evidence for your argument or interpretation: First consider whether the facts you're mentioning are "common knowledge" according to the definition in point 3 above. When you're relying on facts that might be disputed within your discipline--perhaps newly published data--establish that they're trustworthy by showing that you got them from an authoritative source.

    e.g. In September 1914, more than 1300 skirmishes were recorded on the Western Front (Taylor 337). [MLA system]
    e.g. Other recent researchers (4,11,12) confirm the findings that drug treatment has little effect in the treatment of pancreatic pseudocysts. [number system]

    c. Distinctive or authoritative ideas, whether you agree with them or not: The way you introduce a reference can indicate your attitude and lead into your own argument.

    e.g. Writing in 1966, Ramsay Cook asserted that Canada was in a period of critical instability (6). That period is not yet over, judging by the same criteria of electoral changeability, economic uncertainty, and confusion in policy decisions. MLA system]
    e.g. One writer (Von Daniken, 1970) even argues that the Great Pyramid was built for the practical purpose of guiding navigation. [APA system]

    Material prepared by Margaret Procter, Coordinator of Writing Support,
    for use at the University of Toronto.

    Updated September 22, 1997

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The Columbia Guide to Online Style
Created by Janice Walker, USF-Tampa

Extensive summary of APA documentation hosted by the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

A summary of the major formats hosted by the University of Toronto

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