Documentation in Academic Research

Frank D. Rashid Department of English and Modern Languages Marygrove College Any scholar, of course, must cite sources as a matter of honesty, and no one wants to be accused of plagiarism, among the most serious of academic offenses. There are, however, other important reasons for citing sources. Through documentation, we show that the conclusions we have reached are not pulled out of the air but are grounded in the work of experts in the field. We also show that we have done our homework, that we have spent time and effort on this project, and that it therefore deserves attention. Students show their professors that they have taken the research assignment seriously, that they respect the course and the discipline and are willing to do the work to form valid conclusions. Published scholars not only gain the above advantages through documentation, but also allow their readers to follow up on the research, check its validity, and use it in their own work. Documentation is the way to participate in the vitality of the scholarly community and the way all academics--from undergraduates to Nobel Prize winners--build upon one another’s work. It is the scholar’s code of conduct. When must sources be documented? A research-writer must document all information taken from any source (published or unpublished, in print or online) whether or not it is directly quoted from the source, unless the information is considered common knowledge.. This means that the research-writer must document: • the results of any of the author’s research, experiments, studies, or surveys, whether or not the results are directly quoted; • any opinion taken from a source, whether or not that opinion is directly quoted; • any factual information that is not common knowledge: when an author’s research has yielded a new fact; • any words directly quoted from a source; (Remember to indicate all quotations with quotation marks or indentation.) • any visual representation (illustration, photograph, chart, table, or graph) that is taken directly from a source; • any chart, table, or graph that is based upon information provided by a source. Failure to document in these instances is plagiarism and subject to the plagiarism policy in the course syllabus. Remember that all words directly taken from a source must be placed within quotation marks or indented. When is documentation unnecessary? Documentation is unnecessary--although it still may be desirable--when the research-writer incorporates information that is considered common knowledge into her/his text. This means that a research writer need not document: • factual general information: names, dates, places, events that appear in sources; John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830. The old J.L. Hudson store was located on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. • other information that appears repeatedly and without documentation in the sources on a given topic. Remember to change the wording of all such information. There is no need to use direct quotations. If you do so, you must indicate the quoted material (with quotation marks or indentation), and document it.

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Documentation is also unnecessary for any opinions, ideas, or arguments that you as research-writer reach independently. These include: • your thesis; • major points that are introduced in the body of a paper that elaborate on or apply the thesis (although documentation will probably be required as they are developed); • results of your own studies, experiments, or surveys. How should a researcher document? There are a number of standard methods of documentation employed by different fields: • • • • The Modern Language Association (MLA) style--used by scholars in English language and literatures, ancient and modern languages, and many arts and humanities fields--is taught in English 108 and English 260. The American Psychological Association (APA) style--used in the social sciences, natural sciences, and some business fields--is taught in writing-intensive courses in the social sciences and in English 312. The Council of Biology Editors (CBE) style—used in the natural sciences and Mathematics—is taught in writing-intensive courses in those disciplines and in English 312. The Chicago/Turabian style—used in music and history—is taught in writing-intensive courses in music and history, and in English 312.

Remember that all methods of documentation require that you indicate direct quotations. If you fail to indicate the use of another person’s words, you will still be guilty of plagiarism even if you provide complete, accurate documentation. How should documentation be handled in oral presentations, power-point presentations, etc.? Although documenting in the middle of an oral presentation can be disruptive and cumbersome, you still should strive to provide authoritative support for conclusions and avoid the appearance of plagiarism. This means: 1) You should briefly indicate when material is taken from or supported by sources (without giving full bibliographical information). This can be done by mentioning the name of the authority along with the information. 2) You should briefly indicate when you are using the words of a source, but try to limit the use of quotations. 3) You should provide full documentation in any print or visual materials accompanying the presentation (in the paper on which the presentation is based; in captions in power point images of graphs, charts, and photos; and/or through regular bibliographic entries on a blackboard or handout). Why do students plagiarize? Most student plagiarism results from ignorance or sloppiness. Students may think that only direct quotations require documentation, or they may forget, while taking notes, to distinguish between their ideas and words and those of the source. Some students are under the mistaken impression that as long as they document, they need not indicate direct quotations. The most serious forms of plagiarism--conscious theft of material from a source or from someone else--are probably less common. They are generally easy to recognize. Students occasionally slide into plagiarism because of the mistaken notion that professors have a bias in favor of original thought. However, we as teachers should assert that the academy has traditionally valued both original thinking and the capacity to locate and apply information that already exists. The standard research paper, like the liberal arts in general,

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places importance on both skills: the ability to form new conclusions based upon knowledge of what has already been done in a field or, in the words of T. S. Eliot, on both “the tradition and the individual talent.” Through research, the individual talent builds upon the tradition; through documentation, the scholar shows how the building has taken place. Where can I find more information on documentation and plagiarism? The Marygrove Writing Center and Library Reference Desk can provide such information, and it is available over the Internet. Here are some books with information on different documentation styles: American Chemical Society. Handbook for Authors. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society, 1986. Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Guide for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: MLA, 2003. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001. Raimes, Ann. Keys for Writers: A Brief Handbook. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton, 2002. Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. 6th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 6th ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.