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.
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:
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.]
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:
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.
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).