Academia is notorious for over-stressing the importance of citing sources. Every single class a student attends provides a syllabus with a thick paragraph discussing the consequences of plagiarizing. If the student is really lucky, the professor also mentions it in class and spends half of the hour defining plagiarism.
Plagiarism, for those unfortunate enough to have missed out on such syllabi, is defined as “the representation of another’s work as your own.” As that is not actually a direct quote from an outside source but our general understanding of the term, there is no need to cite it. Proper citations are a pain (you really have to tip toe in universities or else you could see yourself holding a big, fat F for your lack of focus), and some writers can feel squelched, but it really is necessary to give credit where credit is due.
What brought this on?
Creative people create, and they want to share their creations with the world. Unfortunately it seems that others have opportunity to make money and to take credit, so they do. Not right.
With the ever-growing world of the Internet, it appears that MLA and APA standards are flying out the window in more casual content. Without a stodgy old professor keeping most people honest on the web, plagiarism is just about as common as really bad writing in the blogosphere. If anything, people provide the links to their inspiration, but sometimes don’t refer to anything directly in the content. Is that enough? It’s better to be cautious and over cite than barely even mention that the idea is not yours. But it does largely depend on your situation and your audience. If you intend that your online content be printed for client resource, than it’s best to use proper citation methods. Readers can easily click on a link and be redirected to the original content – when your content is still online. But paper doesn’t provide those links.
Why is citing important?
We live in a culture that promotes a culture of innovation and new ideas, and that same culture also promotes expert opinion, most of the time. We want to be acknowledged for our thoughts, and while we appreciate others freely sharing our information, we still know when a line is crossed. And when you want to be considered reputable, what better way than to quote a prominent figure and prove where you got that quote?
While citing standards seem only to confuse and harry the the poor writer with its crazy set of rules, it is vital we bring readers back to the point of invention in a way that doesn’t distract them from the message but still provides correct information people will notice.
What must we cite?
Though some woeful writers believe they can only regurgitate pithy sayings and wise expressions, the human mind will never cease to create. If the work is printed and published for public view (or even just printed), then cite the way you should. If the idea comes from your friend our your great aunt, attribute it to them, but there’s no need to pull out the Chicago Manual of Style.
No one knows everything, and we must research in order to speak on a topic we know nothing about.
Plagiarism has its strongest hold in this situation, as the writer will access one site and synthesize that information only, therefore keeping much of the same structure or wording. The information is not their own. Should a reader discover that the content nearly copied another site, they can wonder about the credibility. Or it could be worse. Whatever the consequence, it’s best to not copy content almost verbatim. And this includes sentence structure, not just vocabulary.
So how do you prevent this kind of situation when you really can’t use citations? One solution is to truly make the content your own. To do that, access more than one site with related content. Read the content and allow it to settle, synthesizing the information. Eventually you should be able to write the content with your own structure and wording, with very little reference to another site. This takes much longer, but it is effective and avoids any problems.
- Plagiarism might be overblown in academia, but it’s a serious problem.
- It has become common on the web to ignore the basic courtesy of giving others credit for their idea.
- Whether it’s with hyperlinks or footnotes, give credit where credit is due to ensure the continued spread of original ideas.
- Citing reliable sources can, in turn, lend your content some extra credibility. This is huge!
- Try reading a number of sources as you research to ensure you aren’t copying one perspective alone, but synthesizing a variety of ideas.