Processing, interpreting, quoting and referencing source material

Just a quick reflection on a recent session.

Jenny (not her real name) is an overseas mature student in the School of Social Sciences, having started her degree course only a few weeks ago. She approached the Study Skills Centre for a mentoring appointment because she lacks confidence with the “technicalities” (her word) of academic writing.

The introduction to the session went well. We had time to briefly discuss the services of the Centre and Jenny’s background, country of origin and experience at Bangor so far. She seems to be a very diligent student, having comprehensive, beautifully hand-written lecture notes for all her modules, and is generally confident when talking about her subject. She very quickly presented her main concern to me: avoiding plagiarism, knowing when and when not to reference, and the Harvard system of referencing in particular.

The source of this concern seems to be a lack of instruction during her ‘access to university’ course on how to process information and incorporate it into her own writing, where (it seems) students were permitted to quote large sections of source texts as long as they referenced the author. She instinctively feels that this is wrong but doesn’t know why or what to do about it.

This is a problem I have encountered with other early university learners. They are conscious that they need to engage with the substantive information and discussion of experts in the field but can’t see a way of processing and re-presenting the material other than to quote it in full: “How on earth can I express this any better than the original author did? Particularly as I don’t really understand it anyway!” Rather than compromise on the intellectual tone of the essay and leave out complicated (and perhaps important) details/ideas, they end up quoting large sections of the source text verbatim.

Of course, this isn’t a ‘writing’ problem per se, it’s more of a general study skills issue about how to engage with your reading material, how to understand it and reflect upon it, how to extract the most important details, how to express your understanding of it, how to rephrase it into your own language and present it back to a new audience.

I don’t have the answer to this problem! But I would like to reflect on the approach I’ve taken with Jenny and others before.

Essentially, I separate out the two tasks: i) summarising the ideas/theories of another writer, and ii) deciding what needs to be quoted or referenced, and how. First I ask the writer to put all their notes and quotes aside and just freely (and orally) summarise what the author is saying in the given text. They usually do an excellent and eloquent job of this, often to their great surprise. I then ask them to write down what they have just said. This passage/paragraph is normally suitable for inclusion in their essay somehow, depending on how they tie it in with the rest of the discussion. I then turn to Colin Neville’s guidelines in his book The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism (copy available in the Peer Mentors’ room) and assess the passage based on these guidelines. I’m not going to go through them all here, but ideas like controversy, pithiness, exceptionally good phrasing, etc., may incline the writer to quote a particular section of the original text verbatim in their summary. This can normally be done quite easily retrospectively. Further to that, ideas such as differentiating between new/specific/unique vs. ‘common’ knowledge help the writer decide what aspects of his/her summary need to be attributed directly to the original author or left as their own authorial comment. We might also discuss how those references to the original author might be made, whether in the text or in footnotes, etc..

 

I find separating out these two tasks makes the process a lot easier. The task of mentally ‘processing’ the source text and summarising it into your own words is fundamental and cannot be avoided. Whether you MUST or CHOOSE to then quote or reference the original author and text are secondary and can be assessed in the light of guidance and good practice, and there is plenty of published material out there to help. First ‘own’ and communicate the information, then decide what needs to be attributed to others and how.

That is how I have dealt with this rather common problem anyway. But I’d be grateful for any thoughts…

Phil Davies

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Taking ownership of your sources

I have spent my morning working through the essay of a student that I am meant to see this afternoon. She is concerned with style. Among the many things that struck me, one pattern struck me when I tried to think about how I would have written it differently. All the information was well organised, but the delivery lacked authority. I began to think carefully about the mechanics of the language she was using, and how they compared with writing that does assert itself, of which journals in all subjects are rich. An interesting revelation hit me that I realize is common to many students I have encountered.

Incorporation of source material (referencing) is a big deal in academia: We strive to reference to give our writing context and authority, but mainly (let’s not be coy) because we dread any accusation of academic dishonesty. We reference in self-defence.

This I find can be reflected in the tone of the writing, as the writer attributes ideas explicitly to the author of the source. For me this makes the argument sound slightly more passive, thus weakening its resolve.

A simple sciency example:

“Frank et al. (2005) find that Atlantic cod have an important ecosystem role: Their experiment showed that declines in cod are correlated with an increase in benthic invertebrates and other pelagic fishes.”

With minimal changes to the wording and the placement of the reference, it is possible to take more ownership of the idea without any dishonesty. Thus…

“Atlantic cod have an important ecosystem role as declines in cod are found to be correlated with an increase in benthic invertebrates and other pelagic fishes (Frank et al., 2005).”

The information is all there, and still attributed to the original author. With the reference in place there is no reason not to present the idea with the authority you would your own, making a punchier, assertive sentence.

Here is an extended version of the sentence:

“Frank et al. (2005) find that Atlantic cod have an important ecosystem role: Their experiment showed that declines in cod are correlated with an increase in benthic invertebrates and other pelagic fishes. Frank et al. (2005) also found that through trophic cascade effects this led to an increased numbers of herbivorous zoo plankton and lower levels of phytoplankton in the water. Further, Casini et al. (2012), who find that the natural introduction of cod into the Gulf of St Riga had a significant positive effect on water clarity.”

Here the same reference is used twice, even though the focus has not shifted from it. I find this can sound a little clumsy and can be avoided through clever placement of a connecting word:

“Atlantic cod have an important ecosystem role as declines in cod are found to be correlated with an increase in benthic invertebrates and other pelagic fishes (Frank et al., 2005). This led to trophic cascade effects causing an increased numbers of herbivorous zoo plankton and lower levels of phytoplankton in the water. Further, the natural introduction of cod into the Gulf of St Riga was found to have a significant positive effect on water clarity (Casini et al., 2012).”

The phrase “this led” refers back to the previous sentence, and thus the previous reference, to there is no need to interrupt flow by introducing it again. When incorporating a new reference the same is achieved here by referencing at the end, again taking more ownership of what is being presented.

The benefits of this thinking really become clear when packing in multiple sources of information into a single, sweeping sentence:

“Wide geographic ranges are common to numerous marine fishes including cod (Richardson, 2010), hake (Smith et al., 2003), herring (Peterson et al., 2004; Smith and Jones, 2006) and various species of flatfish (Hope 1999; Richardson, 2010; Parker, 2014). Several factors are thought to play important roles in such wide distributions including temperature (Smith, 2005) and salinity (Jones, 2004), although oceanographic currents are widely thought to be most important (Jones, 2012; Hope, 2003; but see Smith, 2003).”

Here, rapid fire citation allows us to write a few short but well referenced summary sentences in a manner that would not be possible if we included accreditation to each study. Note also the use of “but see” at the end, a hand way of noting a contradicting view without getting sidetracked.

I am not suggesting that any of the exemplified approaches is wrong, indeed they are all perfectly acceptable. But so many students seem afraid to be flexible with their referencing, when doing so can add texture and flow to your writing and show a formidable command of the information at your disposal.

And if you are still worried about presenting the ideas as your own, think of it this way. The author wrote the paper, but you are the one who read it, critically reviewed it, synthesised it with other papers  and presented it as part of your own coherent argument. So give yourself some credit.

Thoughts?

Referencing Styles

Many students who come for writing appointments say that they are unsure of how to reference or that they have been pulled up for their referencing on an assignment and so they ask us “How do I do it?”

This can be a quite scary question as the majority of us are only familiar with one or at the most two different systems and even then we probably still have to check occasionally. However, there are a lot of resources out there that we can make use of and recommend to other students.

Online sources:

  • Harvard – http://libweb.anglia.ac.uk/referencing/harvard.htm, I use this site a lot, it’s simple and easy to use with everything under clear subheadings so you can find what you are looking for
  • APA – https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/, this site again has clear subheadings and uses lots of examples as well as giving advice on style, PowerPoint and statistics
  • MHRA -https://blackboard.swan.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/institution/LibraryISSResources/Referencing%20Guides/MHRA%20style%20(brief%20guide).pdf, this is a really useful excerpt from the full MHRA Style Guide which gives you the basics on referencing. The fully style guide can be downloaded for free and for referencing you need Chapter 11
  • MLA – https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/Guide70.pdf, this document produced by the University of Dublin gives information on how to reference a number of different sources as well as why referencing is used and useful links for generating reference lists
  • OSCOLA – https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxlaw/oscola_4th_edn_hart_2012quickreferenceguide.pdf, this gives a brief overview of how to cite different sources (primary or secondary)
  • Vancouver – http://subjects.library.manchester.ac.uk/referencing/referencing-vancouver, simple and easy to use with everything under clear subheadings so you can find what you are looking for

You can also talk to or refer students on to the library staff responsible for their college, contact details for these staff members can be found here: https://www.bangor.ac.uk/library/contacts.php.en

And of course there are a number of books which we have access to which can be useful as well. I found Cite Them Right: The essential referencing guide (2013 edition) a particularly useful resource. It provides a comprehensive guide on what to cite, how to cite and when to cite. Then it has chapters dedicated to several different styles so that you can see how referencing works in your particular style. There is a copy of this book in the Peer Mentors room and Bangor University Main, Law and Normal Site libraries all have at least one copy.

Finally, something that can help make referencing a little easier: RefWorks. All students are able to access this if they log in through their university account. To use it students simply create a list, which includes the books they have used in their assignment and want to reference, on unicat and then they export this list to RefWorks. On RefWorks they can then choose their preferred referencing style and then generate their final reference list or bibliography depending on the system.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of options and there might be other more useful websites or books out there but these are some of the resources I have used and found helpful when mentoring. If you have any suggestions please let me know!

 

Plagiarism and International Students

The fourth installment of the “Plagiarism” series. This section aims to look at the issues facing international students regarding plagiarism, and how different cultural and social views can play a role.

All of this information is sourced directly from the Open UP Study Skills Book entitled “The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism”, and I am simply adapting this information to produce this series of blog posts. Information on Bangor University’s Code of Practice on Plagiarism, Unfair Practice Procedure and full references can be found at the end of this post.

The interpretation of the term plagiarism varies depending on the marker, the institution and even the country. For students who are familiar with one academic system, studying abroad at a new institute can cause problems. Although plagiarism is unacceptable in the UK and will incur major consequences, there may be some parts of the world where plagiarism is condoned, or is less strictly regimented.

It can often be difficult for students to follow a new referencing system or plagiarism protocol if they have not been previously taught about it. Lake (2004) found in a study of Chinese students, more than 50% had no previous experience of referencing within academic writing. He found that only 1/3rd of these students had some experience of referencing, and that was only in their own language. This shows that simply expecting international students to be able to reference at university may not be appropriate, and further teaching or demonstration may be necessary.

In Vietnam, copying work is not acceptable. However, providing a full bibliography at the end of the writing and including individual author citations within the text is not common. This could cause confusion for students who are then expected to comply with the standards of the institute at which they are studying. It is also common not to cite lecture notes or information provided by a lecturer, something which may result in penalisation in the UK (Ha, 2006).

The language barrier may also cause some international students problems regarding plagiarism. Many students may find themselves trying to interpret or even paraphrase something that they only half-understand, so jargon and academic language which is blatantly different from the rest of their writing is easily spotted. For many international students, English is not their first language, so they may lack confidence in themselves to write academically without extracting information from other sources. In this process, it is very easy to accidentally (or intentionally) leave in sections of work which are not original.

Another common theme relating to the issue of plagiarism with international students, is the high costs of studying at an overseas institution and incredible pressure to succeed. Many students do not wish to face the economic or social shame which may be associated with failure, and feel they are forced to plagiarise to ensure success.

References

Neville, C. (2010). The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. Second Edition. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Lake, J. (2004). EAP writing: the Chinese challenge; new ideas on plagiarism. Humanising Language Teaching, year 6, issue 1, January. Available at http://hltmag.co.uk/jan04/mart4.htm.

Ha, P.L. (2006). Plagiarism and overseas students: stereotypes again? ELT Journal. 60(1): 76-78.

Bangor University Code of Practice on Plagiarism can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUCode13-v201101b.pdf.

Bangor University, Code of Practice on Plagiarism, Code 13, 2011 Version 01, Latest version 2011, Effective 01/02/11.

Bangor University Unfair Practice Procedure can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUProc05-v201502.pdf.

Bangor University, Unfair Practice Procedure, Procedure 05, 2015 Version 02, Latest version 2015, Effective 01/03/2015. Applies to all students.

Why do Students Plagiarise?

Why do Students Plagiarise?

Number three in the “Plagiarism” series. Here we will look at the reasons students give for plagiarising, and their justification of these actions.

All of this information is sourced directly from the Open UP Study Skills Book entitled “The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism”, and I am simply adapting this information to produce this series of blog posts. Information on Bangor University’s Code of Practice on Plagiarism, Unfair Practice Procedure and full references can be found at the end of this post.

What are the reasons for plagiarising work? Surely many (hopefully all) students are conscious of plagiarism and aware of the associated consequences should they cheat. Dordoy (2002) found the reasons students gave for their own plagiarism were most commonly related to grades, poor time management and ease of opportunity:

  • 59% of survey students said they plagiarised work to get a better grade
  • 54% stated it was due to laziness or poor time management
  • 40% found that the internet gave them ease of access to material
  • 29% said plagiarism was accidental as they did not understand the rules
  • 29% also said that plagiarism ‘happens unconsciously’

This survey also found that 16% of students surveyed admitted they plagiarised their work because they did not think they would be caught. Due to the large amount of marking and heavy workloads of lecturers, and the vast amount of information available online, many thought they could simply “get away with it”. Dordoy also found students who gained a sense of superiority by cheating on work and not being caught, and they attributed this as a retaliation to unengaging and uninterested lecturers.

Dennis (2005) surveyed a group of 80 students and asked them why others may cheat. He received a similar range of responses. The responses are as follows, with the most frequently cited at the top:

  1. They started too late and ran out of time
  2. They simply could not do the coursework otherwise
  3. They did not think it was wrong
  4. They have to succeed – they got higher marks this way
  5. They did not need to learn that material – just pass the module
  6. They could not keep up with the work
  7. They wanted to see if they could get away with it
  8. They felt the tutor did not care, so why should they
  9. They thought paraphrasing would be disrespectful

Essentially plagiarism has become easier and more tempting than ever before, particularly with the accessibility of the internet. Students are under a lot more pressure as grades become more important for graduate schemes and work opportunities and huge amounts of money are invested into university education. Students are also under pressure to write within strict word limits, and may be penalised if they are unable to do so.

As can be seen, there are a large number of different reasons given when students are asked why they, or their peers, might plagiarise work. Although their intentions may be different, more often than not the university’s plagiarism policy is not, and students will be punished regardless of whether or not their actions were accidental. It is important to educate students about plagiarism and the correct way to reference material, so they are able to consciously distinguish plagiarism in their work. If students are fully aware of the act of plagiarism and the associated consequences, yet still purposely choose to plagiarise material in their work – then this is a different issue altogether.

References:

Neville, C. (2010). The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. Second Edition. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Dennis, L.A. (2005). Student attitudes to plagiarism and collusion within computer science. University of Nottingham. Available at: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/archive/00000319/. [Accessed 15 Mar. 2006].

Dordoy, A. (2002). Cheating and plagiarism: staff and student perceptions at Northumbria. Working Paper presented Northumbrian Conference: ‘Educating for the Future’, Newcastle 22 Oct. 2003.

Bangor University Code of Practice on Plagiarism can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUCode13-v201101b.pdf.

Bangor University, Code of Practice on Plagiarism, Code 13, 2011 Version 01, Latest version 2011, Effective 01/02/11.

Bangor University Unfair Practice Procedure can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUProc05-v201502.pdf.

Bangor University, Unfair Practice Procedure, Procedure 05, 2015 Version 02, Latest version 2015, Effective 01/03/2015. Applies to all students.

Levels of Plagiarism

The second post in the “Plagiarism” series. This post aims to look at the differing severity levels of plagiarism and the possible consequences for these actions.

All of this information is sourced directly from the Open UP Study Skills Book entitled “The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism”, and I am simply adapting this information to produce this series of blog posts. Information from Bangor University’s Code of Practice on Plagiarism is also incorporated into this post. Full references can be found at the end of this post.

There are three main forms of plagiarism, although somewhat simplified, they can generally be described as:

  1. Cheating – copying another person’s work, including the work of another student (with or without their consent), and claiming it to be your own.
  2. Non-attribution – presenting arguments that use a blend of your own and a significant percentage of copied words of the original author without acknowledging the source.
  3. Patchwork writing – paraphrasing another person’s work, but not giving due acknowledgement to the original writer. (An exception to this is the use of common knowledge).

Plagiarism can be described as inadvertent or conversely, advertent. Inadvertent plagiarism is usually a consequence of poor understanding of referencing procedures and “sloppy” writing techniques, whereas advertent plagiarism involves the intentional and inappropriate use of source material with purposeful emittance of acknowledgement.

Detection of plagiarism within work, inadvertent or otherwise, can result in actions being taken by the academic institution. Consequences may include, but are not limited to: achieving 0% for the assignment of which plagiarism was alleged, refusal of work resubmission/examination re-sits and can also result in the overall module mark being capped. Bangor University refers to the Unfair Practice Procedure to outline procedures which will be applied when plagiarism is alleged or detected. The Unfair Practice Procedure can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUProc05-v201502.pdf.

References:

Neville, C. (2010). The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. Second Edition. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Bangor University Code of Practice on Plagiarism can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUCode13-v201101b.pdf.

Bangor University, Code of Practice on Plagiarism, Code 13, 2011 Version 01, Latest version 2011, Effective 01/02/11.

Bangor University Unfair Practice Procedure can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUProc05-v201502.pdf.

Bangor University, Unfair Practice Procedure, Procedure 05, 2015 Version 02, Latest version 2015, Effective 01/03/2015. Applies to all students.

What is Plagiarism?

“What is Plagiarism?” is the first post in a Plagiarism Series. I aim to produce a series of posts about plagiarism; what it is, why it occurs, and how to avoid it etc.

All of this information is sourced directly from the Open UP Study Skills Book entitled “The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism”, and I am simply adapting this information to produce this series of blog posts. A full reference can be found at the end of this post.

The first thing to consider is “What is plagiarism?” This can actually be a difficult question, as there is no single definition. Every academic institution develops their own definition and associated code of conduct. There are a range of interpretations, however, “Intentional decision not to acknowledge the work of others (within an assignment)” is a rather reliable definition. Plagiarism can also be considered as a practice which is described as cheating. Examples include:

  • Collusion without official approval between two or more students, resulting in the production of identical, or almost identical, work being presented by said students.
  • Falsification: where content of assignments, e.g. statistics, has been manufactured or falsely presented by a student as their own work.
  • Replication: where a student submits the same, or a very similar, piece of work on more than one occasion.
  • Taking unauthorised notes into an examination.
  • Obtaining an unauthorised copy of an examination paper.
  • Communication with another student in an examination in order to help, or be helped, with answers.
  • Impersonation of another person in an examination.

Bangor University has its own Code of Practice on Plagiarism which also covers issues such as computer fraud, commissioning work and bribery. The full Bangor University Code of Practice on Plagiarism can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUCode13-v201101b.pdf.

You can also find more information on plagiarism from the Bangor University Study Skills Department. Students can book a consultation with a Study Adviser or Peer Writing Mentor, where they have the opportunity to meet individually for up to 50 minutes to discuss academic writing, including referencing and plagiarism. You can book an appointment here: http://studyskills.bangor.ac.uk/writing-appointment-form.php.en.

References:

Neville, C. (2010). The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. Second Edition. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Bangor University Code of Practice on Plagiarism can be accessed here: http://www.bangor.ac.uk/regulations/BUCode13-v201101b.pdf.

Bangor University, Code of Practice on Plagiarism, Code 13, 2011 Version 01, Latest version 2011, Effective 01/02/11.