Some Guidelines on Documentation1
Almost any paper about literature requires some documentation: Even if you do not consult any secondary sources while preparing a paper, you will at least need to specify which edition of a literary work you used and to identify all quotations correctly. In a research paper, obviously, documen tation becomes much more extensive and complicated. Documentation has two basic purposes: to aid readers who may wish to check any of your sources, either because they doubt your accuracy or because they wish to learn more about the subject; and to acknowledge your indebtedness to all the people from whom you have borrowed words or ideas. For the most part, documentation is governed by considerations of convention, courtesy, and honesty. To aid readers, scholars in an academic field generally agree to use the same format for documentation; and scholars in all academic fields agree about the seriousness of any failure to document sources honestly. Mastering documentation, then, requires careful attention to our discipline's conventions about format; even more, it requires determination and vigilance to assure that all debts are acknowledged fully and clearly.
PROPER AND IMPROPER USES OF SOURCES:
Full, honest documentation requires you to tell your readers exactly what sources you used in writing your paper and exactly how you used them. Mention every source that contributed to your paper, and make the nature of the contribution clear. Did you borrow an idea from the source? Did you borrow any words as well? You do not need to document bits of common knowledge found in many sources (e.g., "Lyrical Ballads was published in 1798"), but you do need to document almost everything else—not only direct quotations but also any facts, ideas, or insights you gained from a particular source. The failure to document sources fully and precisely constitutes plagiarism.
Plagiarism involves misinforming or misleading the reader: The reader is led to believe that a writer's words or ideas are original, when in fact they are borrowed from other sources. Some plagiarism is intentional—a writer copies down all or part of a journal article or a chapter from a book, making no mention of the original work or its author anywhere in the paper. Much plagiarism, however, is at least partly unintentional—the writer is ignorant of or confused about the proper way to document sources or simply becomes careless while taking notes and forgets to identify a direct quotation as such. Good intentions, however, do not constitute an adequate excuse for plagiarism or a convincing defense when plagiarism is detected. Most professors agree that students have an obligation to learn about and abide by the conventions of documentation and must accept full responsibility for any failure to do so. Moreover, most professors do not feel capable of judging a student's intentions: A plagiarized paper is a fact, but any person's motivations are, ultimately, a matter about which one can only speculate. Those who plagiarize unintentionally are therefore usually punished just as severely as those who plagiarize intentionally. Since plagiarism is a dishonorable offense, and since the penalties for it may range from failure in a course to expulsion to professional disgrace, all writers should take all precautions to ensure that no plagiarism, intentional or unintentional, mars their writing.
You may summarize, paraphrase, or quote directly from outside sources, but you must be sure to do two things: give the reader full information about each source and make the extent of your indebtedness clear. Do not, for example, let the reader mistake a direct quotation for a summary or a paraphrase. Suppose that you wish to use in your paper this passage from David Perkins' The Quest for Permanence: The Symbolism of Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959) 35-36:
Death itself is not an obsession with Wordsworth, nor does his quest primarily involve an attempt to find some reconciliation to the fact of death (as does that of Shelley, Keats, Yeats, or, for that matter, the Shakespeare of the sonnets). The great lines in the closing sonnet of The River Duddon—"We men, who in our morn of youth defied / The elements, must vanish—be it so."— are not bravado. They are a real acceptance, even though that acceptance is not placid or joyous. But what is not accepted, and is a constant "trouble" to his "dreams," is man's isolation from nature while he lives. The quest for permanence, in so far as Wordsworth is concerned, should be regarded as a quest for a certain kind of stability and reassurance while we are alive.
It would, of course, be plagiarism to quote this passage word for word without identifying it as Perkins'. It would also be plagiarism to express Perkins' ideas in your own words without acknowledgment:
(ideas borrowed without acknowledgment)
Wordsworth, unlike Shelley and Keats, is not principally concerned with finding a way to accept the fact of human mortality. He is able to reconcile himself, genuinely and sincerely, to death; but he cannot reconcile himself to human~ty's estrangement from nature.
The difference between plagiarism and legitimate summary is the frank acknowledgment of indebtedness:
As David Perkuns points out in The Quest for Permanence, Wordsworth, finlike Shelley and Keats, is not principally concerned with finding a way to accept the fact of human mortality. He is able to reconcile himself, genuinely and sincerely, to death; but he cannot reconcile himself to humanity's estrangement from nature (35-36).
If you use any of Perkins' words, however, simply identifying the source is not enough: You must also enclose the quoted words in quotation marks. If you mention an author's name but do not use quotation marks, the reader will assume that you have borrowed some ideas but that all the words you are using are your own. Misleading the reader in this way is another form of plagiarism:
(direct quotation presented as summary)
As David Perkins points out in The Quest for Permanence, death itself is not an obsession with Wordsworth, nor does his quest primarily involve an attempt to find some reconciliation to the fact of death. Wordsworth is able to accept mortality, but what he cannot accept is man's isolation from nature while he lives (35-36).
If you borrow even a single phrase from another author, do not mislead your reader: Enclose all quoted words in quotation marks.
Legitimate Use of Direct Quotation
As David Perkins points out in The Quest for Permanence, "death itself is not an obsession for Wordsworth, nor does his quest primarily involve an attempt to find some reconciliation to the fact of death." Wordsworth cannot, however, accept "man's isolation from nature while he lives" (35 - 36).
Very close paraphrasing is another form of plagiarism. Many students believe that paraphrase involves no more than "switching some words around"; some have been told that "if you change some of the words in a passage, it's yours." Both of these notions are mistaken. Legitimate paraphrasing involves expressing an idea entirely in your own words. Even if you change all the words but follow the author's sentence pattern very closely, the paraphrase will not be legitimate. And, of course, all paraphrases must be acknowledged, just as all summaries and direct quotations must be:
The quest for permanence, in so far as Wordsworth is concerned, should be regarded as a quest for a certain kind of stability and reassurance while we are alive.
According to Perkins, Wordsworth believes that it is in this life that human beings must seek "a certain kind of stability and reassurance" (36).
The sentence is completely recast; the one phrase quoted directly is enclosed in quotation marks.
(illegitimate paraphrase—too close to original)
According to Perkins, the quest for permanence, for Wordsworth, must be seen as the search for a particular sort of security and confidence during one's lifetime.
The writer has preserved the rhythm of Perkins' sentence and has simply replaced some words with synonyms and near-synonyms; the sentence is still essentially Perkins' and should not be presented as summary or paraphrase. In matters of documentation, being too cautious is far preferable to not being cautious enough. If you are ever in doubt about whether or not to acknowledge something, acknowledge it—or, if there is time, ask your professor for advice.Whoever quotes his source brings deliverance to the world. (TALMUD)
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