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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: business content

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have encountered some deliberate or accidental plagiarism when dealing with content for their business clients, particularly in regard to websites and blog content. By sharing my tips and practices, I hope that I can gather a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. In the business world, this usually involves copying someone else’s content, word for word, without linking back to the original work or acknowledging that it has come from elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that I and colleagues are fairly often confronted with content to edit that has  been pulled wholesale from another (often rival) website, used word for word without attribution. That would be stolen. It’s found most often, in my experience, in business marketing content such as websites and blogs. Note that I have written about plagiarism in student work in another article.

Plagiarism in the business world

Why is plagiarism bad? Two reasons:

  1. If you steal someone else’s content, you are liable to be found out, either by a prospective client who is looking at several different websites in one business area, or by the originator of the content, who may be alerted by a search service such as Google Alerts or plagiarism-detecting software such as Copyscape (thanks Arlene Prunkel for the heads-up; she has blogged about her own experiences using this software).
  2. Using the exact same wording in two places alerts the search engines that something is amiss. It’s never clear exactly how the algorithms work, but you run the risk of your content not being indexed and found anyway.

Why is not flagging plagiarism bad for the editor?

  1. OK, we haven’t signed a Hippocratic Oath of Editing or anything, but it’s the job of a principled and decent editor not to allow plagiarism to happen – surely?
  2. Someone finds out that a site you’ve edited has plagiarised their content. You let it pass unmentioned. The plagiariser says, “Oh, my editor didn’t flag it up”, and the finger starts to point at you.

What form does business web content plagiarism take?

As with student plagiarism, business plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental – or a mixture of the two.

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve edited web text where the style and content varies so much that it’s clear that it’s come from different sources. Sometimes the client is clear about this, “Oh, I picked it up from various places, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Yes, it does.

On other occasions, I’ve been given a link to a single blog post or article, or perhaps a web page, usually by necessity published by the client’s rival, and been asked to “rewrite this so it doesn’t look like we’ve used their words”. Not ethical.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

Sometimes it’s not clear whether a client realises that you’re not supposed to lift text wholesale from another place. So it’s important not to pour scorn or invoke human rights and laws, but to quietly educate.

Accidental plagiarism

Very often, a client or indeed other blogger won’t realise that reposting the whole of an article or web page, with a reference or link at the bottom, will prejudice the search engines against them and lead to their content not being indexed. Here, it’s useful to drop them a line to suggest that they only post a few lines of the original with a link to where it can be found in full. Link-backs all round and happily shared content!

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in business texts

I have a sliding scale of activities depending on the level of plagiarism and overtness about the plagiarism:

Here’s what I do to avoid my clients plagiarising on their websites and blogs:

  • If I find lots of reposted blog content which is referenced, I will have a quiet word about posting teasers and links instead.
  • If I suspect content has been lifted from elsewhere, I’ll pop a few sentences into Google and see if I can find the source. Then I’ll raise the issue with the client by marking the sections or just emailing them to ask if they had permission to quote the source. I’ll then suggest that they rewrite it (or have it rewritten) using a variety of sources.
  • If a client has quoted an industry leader or other person but not referenced where they got those quotes, and it’s clearly not from a direct conversation, I will advise them that they should quote their sources in a source list or footnote or link.
  • If I am asked to rewrite one blog post or web page to make it suitable for the client, I will go back to them and either offer to research the topic myself or ask for a list of suitable resources from which to research it (which can then be referenced in the text)

I will always explain why plagiarising is a bad idea and the effects it can have on their business, reputation and search engine results. Most clients understand the issues once they’re explained: any that ask me to continue helping them to plagiarise whatever will become ex-clients. I can’t risk being associated with this kind of activity, and I don’t wish to be implicated in any scandals, plus it’s against my ethics to promote or encourage plagiarism.

I’ve talked here about strategies for dealing with plagiarism in business texts. If you have any other practices you’d like to share, please do submit a comment below!

Related posts on this blog:

What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

Top 10 blogging sins

My terms and conditions

 
 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have come across deliberate or accidental plagiarism, or are concerned that they are doing “too much” and thus causing their client to unwittingly engage in plagiarism. By sharing how I approach this, and asking for comments, I hope I can gather together a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is, at its most basic, the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. It usually involves copying someone else’s work, text, content, however you want to describe it, without pointing out that  you’ve copied it or referencing it back to the original work.

In my work, plagiarism is found most often in student work and business marketing content such as websites and blogs. This post is about student work, and I discuss business content in another post.

Plagiarism in academic work

Plagiarism is, unfortunately, rife in academic work. You can kind of understand it: students are under a lot of pressure, and overseas students in particular can have a lot of financial pressure from their funders to return home with a good degree and pick up a high-level job. With courses over-subscribed and A-levels often not preparing students for the rigours of academic work, the student may not understand that they are not supposed to use other people’s work unattributed, although universities do provide them with reams of paper and things to sign which are intended to explain and prevent plagiarism.

I tend to find two kinds of plagiarism, deliberate and accidental:

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve come across some pretty shocking examples of deliberate plagiarism in my work. This includes sections marked in a different colour, with a note in the covering email: “Can you please rewrite the sections I’ve highlighted”. More heartrending are the examples where the author says to me, “My English is not good enough to rewrite the parts from other authors, please help me to rewrite them”. But I can’t.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

I often come across direct quotations used as if they are the author’s own words. Unfortunately, to the experienced editor, it becomes all-too-clear when a direct quotation is being used without being referenced. Here are some markers of the unattributed block of text that I’ve found:

  • The language changes subtly: more multi-syllable words, different kinds of linking words used
  • The standard of the English becomes markedly higher, with no corrections needed to be made (even if you miss these as you go along, the island of white in a sea of coloured corrections and highlights stands out as you look at the page)
  • The language changes from American to British English or vice versa (many students are inconsistent in their spellings, but a block of the opposite type of English is a real giveaway)
  • The font, size or colour of the text, or the indentation, line spacing or justification changes – a classic case of copy and paste

Sometimes you can give the student the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they meant to rewrite and reference and forgot. Maybe they didn’t realise that they couldn’t use blocks of text like this. But it doesn’t mean that it can go unmarked.

Accidental plagiarism

I would count accidental plagiarism as a case where a student who has clearly rewritten ideas taken from other texts and referenced direct quotations and such ideas misses off a reference after a piece of text that is clearly from someone else. Of course, the cases above may be accidental, too, but they do still need to be addressed, as does the odd missed reference.

Plagiarism by the editor

There’s another form of plagiarism which the editor must resist themselves: rewriting so much of the text that it’s the editor who has in effect written the text, and not the student. I talk about how I avoid that below.

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in student work

It’s our duty as decent and principled editors to flag up plagiarism when we find it and help our student customers to realise how they should be referencing and when they’ve made a mistake. It is not our job to rewrite text or make so many corrections and suggestions that we have in effect written the essay ourselves. There are plenty of dodgy proofreading companies out there that will do that (and essay writing companies that will sell students ready-written essays), but as a decent editor, you should not be involved in those sorts of practices.

If you don’t flag up these problems, it is likely that the essay will be run through the university’s plagiarism software and that will flag them up to serious effect (many students know this, and that’s why they might ask us to rewrite sections for them). If you’re concerned about returning work to a student with plagiarism noted and discussed, remember that you’re saving them from possible penalties or even expulsion from their course if they continue to plagiarise and attempt to pass others’ work off as their own, even if you’re not concerned about helping people to obtain qualifications fraudulently.

Here’s what I do to avoid helping the student to commit plagiarism by passing off my own words as their own:

  • I always work with Track Changes turned on and instruct the student to check each change and accept or reject it themselves. Yes, I know they can press “Accept all changes”, but I send them instructions on how to work with Track Changes that don’t include this option.
  • I will delete, add and rearrange only if either the words are all correct but the order is incorrect, or the order is correct but the tenses are incorrect. You soon get a feel for the light touch needed to bring writing up to a clear output without rewriting.
  • If a sentence is obviously wrong in terms of content, I will insert a comment and advise the student to check the correctness of the content.
  • If a sentence is so garbled as to not make sense, I will insert a comment and ask the student to rewrite it.
  • If a sentence could mean one of two things, I will insert a comment to suggest the two opposite meanings and ask which they mean.
  • I am clear in my terms and conditions on this website and in my initial text to the student that this is how I operate.
  • When dealing with a bibliography, I will make small amendments to isolated errors in punctuation or order, usually up to about 10% of entries. If more than 10% of entries are not formatted according to the rules the student has sent me, or are completely chaotic, I stop editing the bibliography and insert a comment to remind the student that the bibliography is supposed to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, so they must work on it themselves.

Here’s what I do to stop the student plagiarising:

  • If I find the odd missed reference for a direct quotation, I will highlight the offending quotation and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find the odd obvious copy and paste which has not been referenced, I will highlight the offending sentences and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find an isolated substantial section which has clearly or even possibly been lifted from another source, I usually copy a few sentences and pop it in a Google search to see whether I can find the original. Then I will highlight the section and insert a comment along the lines of “This appears to come from another source without being referenced. Mark as a direct quotation and reference, or rewrite in your own words and reference”.
  • If I find several substantial sections like the above, I will stop editing and write to the student advising that much of the text has been lifted from other sources without being referenced, this is plagiarism and they need to address the issues.
  • If I find anything more than the odd missed reference to a direct quotation, I will mention the referencing issue in my covering email when returning the work, to ensure that the student is reminded to reference all direct and indirect quotations (thanks to Liam for his comment below reminding me that I do this).

What if the student says it’s OK to rewrite their work?

Sometimes when I return work to a student advising that it’s risking plagiarism to have me continue working on their text (usually because of the level of changes I’m having to make to the text rather than lifting work from other writers), they will come back to me to say that their supervisor / tutor says that it’s OK to do this amount of rewriting.

If they do this, I request that their tutor writes to me telling me it is OK to engage in this level of correction. I require this letter to be on headed paper, signed by the supervisor and scanned in and emailed to me. This hasn’t happened very often; when it has, I have contacted the supervisor to check, and continued with the work. I have saved the scanned letter alongside my copy of the student’s work in case of any comeback.

This article has outlined what I do when I encounter plagiarism in student work. I have resources on this website about plagiarism (listed below) which I am happy for you to reference if you need to (but not copy!). If you have other ways of overcoming this issue, please do submit a comment!

Related posts on this blog:

Plagiarism in business texts

On plagiarism

How to quote sources without plagiarising

Referencing for academic writing

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

On (not) crossing the line

 

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Choosing a proofreader – student edition

track changesIf you’re starting an undergraduate, Master’s or PhD course and you think your writing in English might need some help, it’s a good idea to look for a reputable proofreader to help you. You might be using English as a second or other language, or have a different issue to deal with such as dyslexia or needing to use voice-recognition software. Your tutor or personal tutor might have recommended that you find someone to help you, or you might choose to try to improve things yourself. But how do you choose a reputable, genuine proofreader when there are so many companies and people out there? Here are some tips.

Be careful

The first thing I will say here is be careful. Obviously, all proofreading companies want to make money. But some of them do profit from students, in particular, not knowing what to look out for. I have heard a lot of horror stories in my time: students having their work “checked” when it’s just been run through a spell-checker, companies that don’t care about plagiarism, companies that will sell you an essay to use. Just like any other service or product, there are good and bad companies out there. Be just as careful as if you were buying a designer handbag or a car. After all, your academic mark and reputation might be at risk here.

Check with your tutor / university

Some tutors ask their students to get their work proofread, sometimes before they see it, sometimes afterwards. Universities often have policies on proofreading. For example, one university I work with has a form I must complete and sign each time I work with a PhD where I promise that I have only suggested changes in spelling, grammar, etc., and have not rewritten or otherwise changed the content of the work.

If a student comes to me and says their tutor has asked for their work to be substantially rewritten, I will ask for a scanned, signed letter on headed paper from the tutor to confirm that. So, if your tutor wants more than usual to be changed, get something in writing from them first.

Check the proofreader’s credentials

Any company or individual should state what their training and background is. A company should have a page about the kind of proofreaders that they use. An individual proofreader should have a page detailing their experience, qualifications and background.

It’s good for your proofreader to …

  • Have a degree
  • Have experience in your subject area
  • If you have a particular aspect of your language which needs to be addressed, e.g. working with voice-activated software or dyslexia, to  have experience with similar requirements
  • Be a native speaker of the language in which you are writing
  • Have a qualification from an official body (the Society for Editors and Proofreaders or the Publishing Training Centre in the UK) OR have extensive and documented experience

Check what service the proofreader offers

Check what the proofreader says that they will do – exactly.

Good things to look for:

  • Do they mention using Track Changes to mark up your work?
  • Do they mention making a note of any unclear areas?
  • Do they mention coaching students through a degree or Master’s?

Bad things to look out for:

  • Do they mention helping you to avoid getting caught for plagiarism (see section below)?
  • Do they say that they will rewrite your essay for you?
  • Do they say that you can buy an essay that someone else has written from them?
  • Do they mention compiling your bibliography for you?

These are all red flags: red for danger. If a company is offering to help you to plagiarise, avoid them. This will contravene your university’s regulations.

Ask for references and testimonials

A good proofreader / company will offer references and testimonials on their website.

Things to look out for:

  • References from people who are doing the same sort of thing as you (Master’s Dissertation, PhD, etc.)
  • References including full names rather than Mr D and Ms Y (note that not all of them will have the full name, but at least some should)
  • References should not all be identical. They should look like they were written by real people.

Check your proofreader’s policy on plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offence. If you plagiarise and get caught, you could get kicked off your course. At the very least, if you get caught, you will lose marks. Even if you don’t get caught, plagiarism – passing off someone else’s work as your own – is unethical and wrong. If you plagiarise, you are also not learning what you should be learning from your course.

I found a student proofreading company the other day that boasted of rewriting students’ work so that they will not get caught by plagiarism software. This is a bad thing to do. I would advise you never to go near a company that offers such services.

Another student proofreading company, and the only one I work with myself, has FAQs on their website. These strictly state that you cannot expect them to write your essay for you or to paraphrase sections of your work that you have taken from other books or essays. This is a good thing to do and I would advise you to look for this kind of statement.

I have a statement on plagiarism in my Terms and Conditions. Other places you might find it are in the FAQs or Services or Notes. If you can’t find something on a proofreader’s website, ask them. If they don’t have a plagiarism policy, or they can’t tell you what their policy is, avoid using them.

Regarding bibliographies – your proofreader should not compile your bibliography for you. Putting together a bibliography is one of the central academic skills that you are being tested on when writing your dissertation or thesis. A proofreader will check that all of the relevant entries are there (if you ask them to) and will certainly check for commas out of place and the odd mistake, but they should not write or format it for you from scratch (see more on bibliographies here).

Check that the proofreader is asking a fair price

Many proofreading companies seem to ask for a very high price for their work. I’ve checked and this year prices from proofreading companies for working on a standard student essay, dissertation or thesis in the UK is around £6-£10 per 1,000 words. This increases if the work is urgent.

Individuals often charge a little less – say about £5-£10 per 1,000 words. They may charge by the hour instead.

This is a rough estimate based on searching across websites and should not be taken as anything except a loose guideline. Fees vary according to the location of the proofreader.

If someone is charging a lot less than this, do check their credentials very carefully. It is likely that the work is being outsourced to people who might not be skilled or have English as their first language.

If someone is charging a lot more than this, check what extras they are offering and whether this is worth the extra money.

Check who will be doing your work

This is very important if you’re planning on submitting more than one piece of work to the proofreader. Although the English language does have rules, personal preferences do also come in, and one proofreader may work on a text slightly differently from the next. Therefore, if you’re going to be submitting all of your Master’s coursework or your whole PhD but in separate chapters, it makes sense for the same person to deal with all of your documents.

This is more common with individual proofreaders. But a company will work with many proofreaders and may be able to offer this for you.

It can be very useful and rewarding to work with one proofreader throughout your course. They might be able to pick out certain mistakes you make and help you to work on those for the next essay. This may help you to write well and clearly in English independently of your proofreader in the end.

Book in good time

You should know at the beginning of an undergraduate or Master’s academic year when your main deadlines for the year are. If you’re doing a PhD, you should know soon when you will need to submit reports and updates, and you should schedule time for writing up.

Especially if you’ve been working with someone all year on your Master’s course, book in to have them proofread your dissertation as soon as you know the date. No proofreader minds being booked in advance – and most of us don’t mind if things slip a bit, as long as you keep us informed. But we’re all humans, and sometimes, if you leave it too late to book, we won’t be able to fit you in. That’s when panic sets in, and you might make a bad choice.

Note: If your favourite proofreader can’t book you in, they should be able to recommend other people to try. I always offer a list of alternatives out of courtesy if I can’t fit an enquirer in.

Individual proofreader or proofreading company?

You can use an individual proofreader or a proofreading company. They both have pros and cons:

An individual proofreader:

  • You can talk to them direct
  • They can guarantee to work on more than one document for you
  • They might get busy or ill and not be able to do your work or book you in

A company:

  • Should have enough proofreaders to ensure availability even at busy times
  • Might not be able to guarantee the same person to do every job for you
  • You are unlikely to be able to talk to the proofreader direct

I think you are more likely to find an ethical person among the individuals, but it’s always worth checking all of the points above.

My recommendations

As I’m fully booked at the time of writing this post (and heavily booked most of the time), you can see that I’ve written this post for you, the students, and not to get more work for myself!

I do offer a small list of personal recommendations. I cannot guarantee their availability, price or service, of course. You enter into a discussion with them at your own risk, and you can find them on my Links page. You can also use the SfEP directory to find someone to help you.

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In this article I have shared some tips on how students can choose a good and reputable proofreader.

If you’re a student, you might be interested in more posts for students on this website. Do click through and have a look. And best of luck with your studies!

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Ethics, proofreading, Students, Word, Writing

 

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New ways to navigate the resources on the Libro blog

I’ve built up loads of information on all sorts of topics on this blog over the past few years, so I thought it was time to put together a resource to help you find what’s most useful for you. I ran a poll, people said yes, so I did it!

I put this new guide together about a week ago, and it’s proved popular so I thought I’d let you know about it quickly.

I’ve put together one simple resource guide with three main sections:

  • Resources for business – these include posts on how to set up a small business, things to do to grow your business, hints on networking, motivation, etc.; then some information about tax and finally an additional link to my small business interviews (note that business formation and tax posts are relevant to the UK although the rest of it will translate anywhere)
  • Resources for students – how to write an essay or dissertation, plagiarism and quoting sources, and lots more to come
  • Resources for Word users – all sorts of tips and hints to make your documents more consistent and easy to write, change and navigate, including tabs, margins, headings, contents pages and more obscure matters like how to put text in alphabetical order. Also includes a few notes on PowerPoint and other applications,

The whole resource guide offers a good way to find out what you need to know – do have a look and a play around, and let me know if you’ve found anything particularly useful!  I’ll be adding both resources and entries to the resource guide as I go along, of course. Watch this space …

And of course, we still have the index to the Troublesome Pairs and index to all the Saturday Small Business Chat posts.

I hope you enjoy the resource guide and indexes, and the resources they guide you to!

 

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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.

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

 

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Referencing for academic writing

It’s dissertation season, in the UK at least, and so I thought I’d talk a little bit about some topics that are important to students, whether you’re doing your undergraduate dissertation or a postgraduate Master’s dissertation or PhD.  I’ll cover referencing this time, and then something on planning, structuring and handy hints. If you’ve been through the process and have any hints and tips to share, do get in touch so I can weave them together into a useful document.

So: referencing.  We reference (or cite) what we’ve read when writing an essay or thesis in order to avoid plagiarism and demonstrate that we’ve read around the subject and know what we’re talking about.  There are two aspects to referencing:

  • recording what you’ve read and referred to
  • referring to it appropriately in the text and bibliography of your dissertation

Recording what you’ve read

Putting together your references and bibliography is so much simpler if you keep a note of what you’ve read and consulted as you go along.  In the days of my Library and Information Studies post-grad, it was all done on card index cards.  Now there are lots of different options, including software like EndNote and Reference Manager.  For my research project, I’m just keeping a list on a spreadsheet in Excel.

The information you need to note:

  • Author’s full name.  Editor(s) if appropriate
  • For books: full title of the book.  Full publisher information for the book (you can find this on the bottom of the title page, or the back of the title page), including publisher name, location and date published
  • For chapters in books: Full title of the chapter and a full citation for the book, too (see above)
  • For articles in journals: Full title of the article.  Full title of the journal.  Page numbers for the article
  • For everything: page numbers for any direct quotations or sections you are going to refer to heavily
  • For websites: full URL and date you accessed the web page

Obviously, this is easy to do at the time; just note down the details and off you go.  Much, much harder to reconstruct after the event.

Referring to what you’ve read / citing

Now we’re talking about how you refer to what you’ve read and quoted in the text of the document you’re writing. The most important thing to do here is …

  • CHECK WHICH REFERENCING SYSTEM YOUR ORGANISATION PREFERS YOU TO USE!

This is hugely important.  Get it right first time, and you’ll pop all the references in easily.  Get it wrong, or don’t bother to check, and you’ll be going through and through the thing, fiddling around with the references, when you should be spending your time refining your arguments and putting your thoughts across.  Or you’ll be paying someone like me £x an hour to sort it out for you!

Referencing systems include Harvard Referencing, APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association).  They all differ in how they ask you to present the information you collected above within your text.

For example, you could be expected to add a footnote number to each quotation in the text, with either a full bibliographical citation in the footnote section or a shortened reference there and a full bibliographical citation in the bibliography.  Or you could be expected to put Smith (2001) in the text and supply a full reference in the bibliography.  Or you might be putting a number in the text, referring to a numbered list in the bibliography.

A full bibliographical citation looks something like this:

Smith, J.L. (2001) The correct way to do referencing.  Birmingham: Libro Publications.

Jones, A.B. (2001) “Me and my essay”, in Smith, J.L. The correct way to do referencing.  Birmingham: Libro Publications.

Robinson, X. (2009) The different forms of citation.  American Journal of Footnotes 33 (1): 202-204.

But it doesn’t always, and the citation method does affect how this looks.

Always, though: ALWAYS, the bibliography is in alphabetical order by author’s surname.  It can take ages to sort this out if it isn’t!

How to conform to each referencing system?  That’s a long, long post that no one would want to read! Your academic institution should provide you with links to reference materials about their preferred system, and, if not, the dreaded Wikipedia does do a good summary of most of the common ones.

Good luck – and happy referencing!

 

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On (not) crossing the line

I had another learning experience last week. I offer a proofreading and copyediting service to students, but obviously I have to be really careful about authorship and plagiarism. Plagiarism is not just “copying”; it also encompasses “passing off someone else’s work as your own”. Now, I’m sure none of my clients would intend to do this. Usually, I’m tweaking spellings, word usage, the occasional sentence re-write – I do everything in “track changes” in Word so the client can see what I suggest and make their own decision about what to change and whether to change it or not. That means they retain their own authorship. People in the know with whom I’ve discussed it are fine with this approach and it just gently helps the meaning come through.

But just sometimes, there’s a piece of work where I feel uncomfortable with the amount I’m suggesting and working on. For “working on”, read “re-writing”. I did always wonder where the line was drawn; well, it turns out that with this one, I *should* go for gut reaction (unlike in my previous post, where I thought I couldn’t do the work, but it turned out I could). If my gut reaction says that I’m crossing the line where your work is concerned, I will – politely – turn it down and return your work to you without corrections. There are probably people who wouldn’t act like that, but I very firmly believe in doing what is right, above doing what is profitable. Work on which someone is given a grade should be their own work.

Of course, if you’re not a student and you want me to re-write your mangled metaphors, your tortured text, your slippery sentences, then bring it on!

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2010 in Ethics, proofreading, Students, Writing

 

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