Category Archives: Punctuation

How to quote sources without plagiarising

I work with a lot of students, and one of the things that seems to be an issue is how exactly to use your sources when you’re writing an essay. So I thought it was time to write some notes to help you.

How will this article help you?

This article will help you to avoid plagiarism. I’m going to take a text I’ve written and re-write it in some different ways. Because, and this is important, if you just take text from somewhere else and dump it into the middle of your essay … that’s plagiarism. Plagiarism is serious. It’s passing off someone else’s work as your own. And most academic departments use plagiarism detecting software. If they run your work through the software and it shows you’ve plagiarised,  you may well have marks deducted or the whole essay may be returned unmarked.

What’s wrong with just cutting and pasting stuff I’ve found?

I know that in most cases, you don’t mean to plagiarise. You’re pushed for time, you’re often not writing in your native language, and it’s easy to take that text and put it into the essay. But these are the reasons you shouldn’t do it:

  1. It’s morally wrong to plagiarise.
  2. You won’t gain an understanding of the text if you just paste it into your essay.
  3. You will get caught.

How do I use source material in the correct way?

There are two ways to use source material you’ve found in your research:

  • use direct quotations, which you’ll need to indicate using quotation marks ” … ” or ‘ … ‘
  • talk about what the author has said, but put it in your own words

So, how do we do it. Here is a passage I’ve copied from one book and some notes I’ve made from another one. These are the sources for my essay.

Using quotations to talk about your source

This is direct quotation. A simple example:

Mary says “I am going to the park”

I write: “Mary said, ‘I am going to the park'”

An easy way to talk about your source material is to use quotations. You don’t need to re-write what the authors say, however you do need to show you understand what you’re talking about and to link the quotations in a sensible way – you also need to make sure they’re all within quote marks and referenced properly. With the notes you’ve taken (above) you might end up with something like this:

So what I’ve done here is take sections from the text, put them in quote marks, noted where they’re from, and linked them appropriately so it’s clear I understand what I’m talking about.

Note that if you start off in the present tense, “Broomfield (2011) says that there are … ” you need to continue in the present tense; if you start off in the past “Broomfield (2011) said that there were … ” you need to stick with that. You can pop into the present tense if you are talking about a universal truth rather than something rooted in the time frame, so “Broomfield (2011) said that people are always likely to plagiarise” but “Broomfield (2011) said that the results of her study were not clear and she was not able to draw conclusions from them”.

Rewriting source text to talk about what the author is saying

This one is slightly more tricky. You need to do “indirect quoting”, or reporting what the author said. Simple example again:

Mary says “I am going to the park”.

I write: “Mary said that she was going to the park.”

What we have to do here is retain the sense of the original, while writing it in our own words. Here’s what I came up with. Note that I can now use the notes I made on Dexter, too, as I don’t have anything in his words but can talk about what he said and I noted down:

Here I have used a number of different techniques. In no case, though, do I use more than a couple of the original source’s words exactly as they appear in the original. Instead I do this:

  • using synonyms: “hard discipline” instead of “rigorous discipline”
  • simplifying the words but getting the same sense across: “involves” instead of “basically boils down to”
  • reporting what the source said and using that to link the essay together: “she recommends using”
  • expanding on what the source says: “This could be through” rather than “you might”
  • summarising and synthesising (summing up and putting together) “Software such as Word or Excel could be used”, and “keeping a record of the author, title, journal information and date”.
  • Introducing the other research but linking it to the first idea: “Dexter (2012) agrees … “
  • Expanding notes into full sentences: the notes taken on the Dexter text.

Oh: please note here that you use “Broomfield (2011) says this is the case ” or “According to Broomfield (2011) this is the case” but never “According to Broomfield (2011) says this is the case” – I see that last one all the time.

Combining direct and indirect quotation

Of course, the best way is to combine them – some direct quotations, some reported speech or indirect quotations. This has the benefit of breaking up the text a bit, giving some interest, and allowing some use of the authors’ words to save having to rewrite everything.

Note that here I have shuffled around the order of what the first author says, too.

Rewrite, don’t copy and paste

I hope I’ve now managed to explain

  • What plagiarism is (see more in this post)
  • Why it’s not a good idea
  • Different ways to avoid it
  • Direct and indirect quotations
  • Some tips on how to rewrite text

Please do let me know if you’ve found this useful – or if there is more detail you’d like to know about. And do share using the buttons below if you’d like to tell your friends and colleagues about this information.

If you want more … here is a whole article on plagiarism, here is one on essay writing in general and one on writing dissertations and theses, and if you click on the students or writing or Word categories in the right hand column of the blog, you’ll get loads more hints and tips.


Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Ethics, New skills, Punctuation, Students, Word, Writing


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What does a copyeditor do?

I’ve noticed that people have been finding this website and blog by searching for “what does an editor do”?  So I thought a quick example or two might be in order!

What a copyeditor actually does is make sure the text the author has written doesn’t have spelling, grammar, punctuation and factual errors.  When I’m copyediting a piece, I work in several different ways (according to how my client wants me to work with them):

– a Word document and “track changes” – I turn Track Changes on in Word and it shows up exactly what I do, whether it’s deleting something, moving it, or adding a word here and there.  I also use the “comments” facility to highlight a word or phrase and then ask a question or offer some alternatives.   When the client receives the document from me, they choose “show final markup” in Track Changes (or similar, depending on what word processor they’re using) and then go through accepting or rejecting my changes with the click of a button.  I always work like this with students, so they have to decide whether to accept each change, retaining ownership and authorship over the piece of work.  But some other clients like me to do this too.

– a Word document with the changes already made. This is sometimes called a “clean copy”.  I make the changes I think are needed, and the client trusts that I’m right and doesn’t need me to tell them what I’ve done.  I work like this with some clients from the start; some move over to this format after we’ve worked together for a while.  If a client isn’t a student, I offer them one of each of these two, then they can see what I’ve done but don’t have to go through accepting each change.

– an annotated PDF.  I work this way with clients whose work is already in PDF format, or when I’m copyediting web pages.  I print a copy of each web page to PDF or open the PDF document, and use a dedicated application that allows me to highlight parts of the text and add call-out boxes with comments in.  Clients who use this method include anyone who has a set of web pages, and, for example, magazine publishers, who send me the pages as they will look in the final magazine (check back soon for information on when this constitutes “proofreading”).

So, for an example, I’ve made up a piece of text that’s riddled with errors, and then I present my corrected copy underneath.  So I don’t inadvertently plagiarise someone, I’ve used my own text from another blog post.


From the author:

Now I’ve got more flexibility in my time-table, I suggested to my friend Laura who also works from home (and cafes, and her office…that we add in some “co-working” time to our regular lunches. The definition of coworking has extended from its original ‘working with colleauges’ idea to include working in paralell with other people, who are probably not your direct colleagues, in a space which is probably not both of your offices. That sounds a bit muddled – it’s basicly those set of people with laptop’s sitting around a big tables in your local cafe.

So, we decided to try doing this ata local cafe, and now we decided to start writing a irregular series of reviews of local venues with free wifi in which it’s possible (or possible) to work. We’re going to work our way around Queens Heath and then possibly venture farther a field.

My corrected version:

Now I’ve got more flexibility in my timetable, I suggested to my friend Laura, who also works from home (and cafes, and her office … ) that we add in some “co-working” time to our regular lunches. The definition of co-working has extended from its original “working with colleagues” idea to include working in parallel with other people, who are probably not your direct colleagues, in a space which is probably not either of your offices. That sounds a bit muddled – it’s basically those sets of people with laptops sitting around a big table in your local cafe.

So, we decided to try doing this at a local cafe, and then we decided to start writing an irregular series of reviews of local venues with free wifi in which it’s possible (or impossible) to work. We’re going to work our way around Kings Heath and then possibly venture further afield.


There are some variants: a substantive copyedit, for example, will include all of the above work, plus I’ll be looking for inconsistencies in the text as a whole: for example, a character in a biography’s name changing, or the layout of a house being inconsistent in a novel – a bit like being a continuity person for a film.

In the next few weeks, I’ll talk about what a proofreader, copy writer and transcriber does (maybe even a copy typist, too!)


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And these are only the mistakes I noticed …

Over on my book review blog, I talk about a book which was so riddled with errors (including missing commas, typos, missing semi colons, a lack of fact-checking and plain odd sentences) that it completely put me off the text and I felt compelled to mark them all up and then write them all down …


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On the humble apostrophe

I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything on the apostrophe, as it seems such a basic thing that people like me who work with words tend to go on about (we don’t really roam the streets, Sharpie in hand, looking for hapless greengrocers … )

But then I noticed more and more confusions, and a friend or two mentioned that they still weren’t sure, so: the humble apostrophe.

Turning to the dictionary, an apostrophe is “an exclamatory passage in a speech or poem addressed to a person or personified thing.” Oh – not the one we want. OK, it’s “a punctuation mark (‘) used to indicate either possession or the omission of letters or numbers.” That’s better.

Let’s move on to Hart’s Rules, which, oddly enough, contains the rules of English. The following information is summarised from Hart’s. Please do pay attention to all but the ones I mark as terribly hard – they are the ones where you need to know there’s something funny about them and you’ll need to look them up. That’s what we all do, just to check …

The apostrophe is used in two ways – to show possession (ownership) and to mark where letters or numbers have been missed out.

– Use an apostrophe and an s with a normal single noun or indefinite pronoun to show possession – the girl’s job, the box’s contents, anyone’s guess.
A bit harder
– Use the apostrophe and s combination for plural nouns that don’t end in s – people’s opinions, children’s toys.
– Do NOT use an apostrophe in the possessive pronouns: hers, its, ours, yours, theirs – theirs is the kingdom of heaven, a friend of yours, give the dog its dinner (it’s easier to remember the “its” rule if you think of it belonging to this section).
A bit harder still
– Use the apostrophe alone (no s after it) after plural nouns that DO end in s – our neighbours’ gardens, other countries’ borders.
– In compound and “of” phrases, the apostrophe (and the plural, in fact) go after the last noun – my sister-in-law’s son, the King of Spain’s estates.
– Use an apostrophe and s with personal names ending with an s, x, or z sound – Charles’s, Dickens’s, Marx’s and Jesus’s.
Ever so hard (to be honest I sometimes have to look these up and I don’t often see them used correctly) …
– Use an apostrophe and no s when talking about time passing – in a few days’ time, a few weeks’ holiday. But if it’s in the name of a war, no apostrophe – The Hundred Years War.
– A double possessive (making use of both “of” and an apostrophe) may be used with nouns related to living beings or personal names – a speech of Churchill OR a speech of Churchill’s. But it’s not used with nouns referring to organisations, etc. – a friend of the National Gallery.
– A double set of nouns – apostrophe and s go after them if they are acting together – Broomfield and Dexter’s “The Rules of Grammar” – but not if they’re separate – Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s tragedies.
– Apostrophe and no s for a singular noun that ends in an s or z sound combined with “sake” – for goodness’ sake, for old times’ sake (times here is a plural so has the apostrophe after the s). This is the one I have to look up. Maybe you should save this blog post for those purposes.
Believe me, there are more obscure rules, for example those dealing with Greek names. If you need to know, ask me!

Just – don’t. If you really, really need to differentiate, you are just about allowed a small, occasional one, only in examples like – dot the i’s and cross the t’s, find all the number 5’s. But that’s it. And there’s not one with numbers any more, although this has changed in the last decade or so: the 1980s not the 1980’s.

Use an apostrophe when a letter or number has been missed out: won’t, we’ll, bo’sun, ’70s, it’s warm out today.
A bit harder
Don’t use an apostrophe before a word that’s been shortened but is now in general use – flu, cello and phone, not ‘flu, ‘cello and ‘phone.
If the apostrophe replaces the beginning or end of a word, it has a space before/after it to make the word stay separate – rock ‘n’ roll. If the apostrophe replaces a letter in the middle of the word, no space – ma’am, o’er.
Madly hard to remember
An apostrophe is used before the suffix when an abbreviation functions as a verb – KO’d, OD’ing.

Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th rev. ed.) Oxford: OUP, 2008.
New Hart’s Rules Oxford: OUP, 2005.


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Why bother? The value of proofreading

A while ago, I asked people what they’d like to see me writing about. One that came up there, and has come up since, and before, and whenever I mention I’m a proofreader/copyeditor, is … “why bother?” Why can’t people just express themselves however they want, with whatever spelling, grammar and punctuation they fancy?

I have to state my own view here; that’s all I can do. And furnish some examples, many drawn from a discussion I had with peers in the copyediting business, on a forum to which I belong. I fall in between the prescriptive and descriptive camps when it comes to spellings, grammar, etc. and their (inevitable) changes. I glory in new words and word-formations (I’ve been slightly obsessed with the -gate suffix for more years than I care to recall) and I find it fascinating to see how language changes with time. I don’t think it should be fixed, nailed down and not allowed to change. But I still care deeply about clarity and precision of expression. And, in my opinion, if you don’t know the rules and how to apply them, if you don’t *care* about the rules and how to apply them, then the clarity of what you’re expressing can easily be lost, and your meaning may not come across as you intend it to.

Please note, I am not criticising those who don’t know the rules, or have difficulty applying them. How could I, when my own clients include people whose English is not their first (or second, or third) language, dyslexic people, people who’ve not been taught at school or college how the rules work. I like a laugh at a dodgy shop sign as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t point out those things publicly in this blog, or ever want to make people feel I’m mocking them. But if you are not sure what to put or how to write it, there are reference materials all over the place, and people like me and my colleagues, who can help out.

So, some examples (thanks again to the Copyediting-List folks for providing some of them)

— A purple people-eater is purple and eats people, but a purple-people eater eats only the purple ones.

— Here’s a fascinating link showing the importance of word order:

— Here’s an example of how important language is in the legal field. And it’s not just in the legal field – while many students are not marked down for grammar and punctuation these days, a friend who lectures in speech and language therapy does, as a mistake in someone’s notes can cause many problems down the line.

— On a similar note, haven’t we all got colleagues or other people we communicate with who may not have great written language skills? Doesn’t it devalue their opinions a little in your mind, when everyone’s laughing at the latest email or sign?

— This is a long one, but it shows the importance of punctuation!

Dear Jim:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?

Dear Jim:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

— Capitalisation matters too, in this great example from Andy Mabbett:

One area of capitalisation that divides even experts in the field is around species names. There are many types of black-headed gulls, and lots of little gulls, but only one species called Black-headed Gull (and it has a brown head!) and one species of Little Gull. Consider:

“Is that black-headed gull a black-headed gull?”

“No, that’s a little gull. The little gull on the railing is a black-headed gull.”


“Is that black-headed gull a Black-headed Gull?”

“No, that’s a Little Gull. The little gull on the railing is a Black-headed Gull.”

— A classic: Let’s eat Grandma!/Let’s eat, grandma!

— Lynne Truss did well out of this one: Eats, shoots, and leaves/Eats shoots and leaves.

— This one comes in various forms and with various names… I would like to thank my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.

Publishers and other purveyors of words have style guides, academic departments ask their students to reference books read in a certain way, and proofreaders and copyeditors (and copy writers) use reference materials such as the ones I’ve discussed before, to make sure that what they produce is clear and consistent. We do this, I think, on behalf of the reader, so they’re not distracted by mistakes, howlers and inconsistencies. My aim in my work is to help the writer express themselves clearly and accurately, so their readers can read their texts simply and easily, using their brainpower and concentration to absorb the concepts of the text at hand, or just enjoy a work of fiction without having to puzzle over the word the author meant to use.

So – why bother? Do you think I should? Do you think we should? And have I answered the question?


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On the semicolon

A while ago, I wrote a post about blogging more for 2011, asking people what they’d like me to write about; I had several replies. The responses had different themes: business issues; what I got up to during my working week; and specific things like the use of the semicolon and capitals.

I love the semicolon; I think it’s a thing of elegance and beauty. I use it a lot in my copyediting work, often swapping in a semicolon for a comma; I never know which changes my clients accept, but I hope those are some of them!

And now I’m going to stop trying to use it in every sentence. Like a bright colour in a room or a choice swear word in a conversation, it’s perhaps best used sparingly if you’re to get the full effect.

So: a definition. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the semicolon thus: “n. a punctuation mark (;) indicating a more pronounced pause than that of a comma.” It also reminds me that it’s written semicolon, and not semi-colon, causing me to (a) check this in my other sources and (b) amend what I’ve typed already here.

And when do we use it? Here, I turn to New Hart’s Rules, which is recommended by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and so is a style bible for me. Basically, you use a semicolon to divide two or more main clauses which complement or parallel each other and could stand as sentences in their own right. Basically, this makes the text flow better, as instead of being divided up into choppy, short sentences, you can create one, or a series of, balanced and elegant statements. Remember though, folks – if the second clause explains the first, a colon is more appropriate.

You can also use it in a list, in two ways: either where the items in the list have commas within each item, and a semicolon between each item will clarify matters (“They pointed out, in support of their plea, that they had interviewed all of the candidates, successful and unsuccessful; that they had contacted those people, by telephone if possible, who had not been successful; and that they had written to all the others”) or where there is a list separated from the rest of the sentence with a colon, as in my initial paragraph, above.

Interestingly for my international work and readers, there is no difference here between British English and American English.

Here ends my short lesson on the semicolon. Go on, try using one today!


Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Language use, Punctuation, Writing


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