Academics

 
 
 

Introducing and Discussing Sources

Learn how to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Incorporating sources is not just about citing correctly, but also about clearly assigning ideas and opinions to their owners. The best way to avoid unintentional plagiarism is to introduce a source before a quotation, paraphrase or summary, and then to indicate clearly where the source’s ideas or information ends and where your own ideas begin.

While some inexperienced writers fear that introducing sources will break the “flow” of their writing, the opposite is true–good writing clearly signals how the various sources of information fit together, while choppy writing jumps from source to source without signals.


Some Examples of Incorporating Sources

The following two passages are nearly identical; for each one, determine which information and opinions are from the President’s Council and which are the author’s: 

      Prior to Title IX, about 300,000 young women participated in national interscholastic sports (President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, 1997). Looking back, we can now assume that this number is much lower than it should have been and did not reflect the desires of the many girls not allowed to play.
    Prior to Title IX, about 300,000 young women participated in national interscholastic sports, a number which, according to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (1997), is much lower than it should be and did not reflect the desires of the many girls not allowed to play. 

Notice that these two passages say very different things. While both report a statistic of 300,000 women in sports, in the first it is clear that the evaluation of the number is the author’s, while in the second the evaluation was part of the President’s Council report. It takes very little work to make this clear: the key phrases are “looking back” in the first example, and “according to” in the second.

Students often cite by simply putting a parenthetical reference at the end of any paragraph with a paraphrase or summary in it, believing that this is adequate. But such a method can lead to suspicions of plagiarism if it is not clear which ideas are borrowed and which are the writer’s. Consider the paragraph below, in which the only citation information is at the very end. [The following examples are adapted from Coulton, C.J. (2005). The Place of Community in Social Work Practice Research: Conceptual and Methodological Developments. Social Work Research, 29, 73-86.] 

    Another approach to defining communities uses geographic information systems (GIS) to identify patterns of intersecting pedestrian streets deemed to be areas of social interactions. These natural breaks represent boundaries across which social interaction diminishes. GIS can be used to examine hypotheses about space and social organization and to define community units for further analysis. The use of GIS tools to uncover socially meaningful boundaries can make community research more authentic, accurate, and replicable. By examining residents’ perceptions, street intersections, and geographic attributes, the researcher can link social, economic, and behavioral data (Grattis, 1998).

Here it is impossible to know for certain what information and conclusions came from Grattis, and which are the writer’s. But only a few small changes are needed to clarify where the source’s information ends and the author’s voice begins: 

    Another approach to defining communities uses geographic information systems (GIS) to identify patterns of intersecting pedestrian streets deemed to be areas of social interaction. Grannis (1998) demonstrated that these natural breaks represent boundaries across which social interaction diminishes. He has used GIS to examine hypotheses about space and social organization and to define community units for further analysis. One can conclude that such use of GIS tools to uncover socially meaningful boundaries can make community research more authentic, accurate, and replicable. By examining residents’ perceptions, street intersections, and geographic attributes, the researcher can link social, economic, and behavioral data.

Here, the simple phrase “One can conclude” clearly marks the end of the summary of the source and the beginning of the student’s evaluation of that source.

Discipline-specific note
While all disciplines require clearly introducing and discussing sources, the sciences and social sciences require reporting statistics and other simple points of fact more often than do the humanities. Such information can often be cited simply in parentheses and without elaborate introduction, since it is obvious that the writer had to look up the information someplace.

For more strategies for incorporating quotations, paraphrases and summaries, consult A Writer’s Reference under sections MLA-3 (p. 334), APA-3 (p. 386), and CMS-3 (p. 422).

 

For further information, please contact:

Faculty Center for Professional Excellence (FCPE)
Alumnae Hall, Room 123
p – 516.877.4221
e – fcpe@adelphi.edu

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