In coming to Dartmouth, you join a scholarly community, a group engaged in various intellectual conversations. Some of these conversations have continued for several terms, some for decades, and others for centuries. Your professors want you to join in. Every Dartmouth student has the capacity to contribute new perspectives to the ongoing conversation of scholarship. The faculty and librarians will help you.
Imagine the following.1 You enter a dining hall, get your meal, and sit down at a table where people are engaged in a lively conversation. You listen for a few minutes and then decide to join in by picking up on one of the conversational threads. Following the etiquette of good conversation, you would not repeat someone else’s idea, passing it off as your own. Instead, you would credit the original speaker, building on this idea by giving it a new twist, or using it to launch your own perspective.
The conventions of a dinner conversation resemble those of a scholarly conversation. When you compose a paper, a lab report, a presentation, or a film, you add your voice— your ideas, your point of view—to a conversation that is in progress. When you acknowledge and cite your sources, you act as a responsible member of the scholarly community. Those reading or viewing your work know that you have done your research; they can tell which ideas in the work are yours. If you fail to cite your sources, you will be thought of as a poser or a fraud. At best, you will leave your readers or viewers confused about which ideas are yours. At worst, they will know that you have taken credit for the work of others and will regard you as an intellectual thief. Alas, the practice of citing sources is not always as straightforward as it might seem. Below, we examine some of the issues that arise as you work with and cite sources, that is, as you participate in those conversations we call scholarly. Some of these issues relate directly to plagiarism; others deal more broadly with careful, responsible academic work.
2.A Citing While You Write2
Many students envision citing sources as the final step in the writing process. They collect their materials, make notes, and draft their arguments. If they find themselves “on a roll,” they may not want to stop to check or to cite their sources, figuring that they can add the citations later on as finishing touches. But this practice is neither efficient nor safe. It is far better practice to cite your sources as you find them and use them. When you decide to use a source, fully record all the information required to craft a citation. When you make note of a particular passage, be careful to include the page number. If you make careful notes, you will not need to search the source to identify missing details later.
Also, be careful when you cut and paste your sources from your notes to your paper. It is all too easy, while composing, to cut and paste a quotation from your notes without also pulling along the citation. Sloppy note-taking does not excuse plagiarism. In sum, do not wait until the final draft to insert citations. The take-home message: cite while you write.
2.B Collaborating with Your Peers
Being part of a scholarly community often requires that you collaborate with others on your work. Collaborating can pose special problems. We offer here some typical examples of collaboration and the citation challenges that they raise.
Collaboration on Problem Sets
When assigning problem sets, professors expect you to turn in your own work. If your professor allows you to talk to others in the class or use the course textbook or web resources, you should be careful to abide by the professor’s guidelines for using these resources. When in doubt about how to collaborate and cite appropriately, ask your professor.
Collaboration on Laboratory Assignments
In many laboratory science courses, you are expected to work in teams to complete experiments. You share the equipment, resources, and data with other students during your time in the lab. Following the experiment, you are often expected to write up your results independently of other students. Be sure that the written work you submit is your own. If you have talked with or worked with other classmates, cite them in your lab reports. It is important to consult the professor or teaching assistant about the expectations for independent work. You should not assume that the lab rules used in one course apply to another course. Some professors do not allow any exchange of data or tables. Consult the syllabus before deciding whether and how to share results.
Collaboration on Computer Programming Assignments
Most courses that assign computer programs allow you to discuss problems with other students in the class, but you should not copy code from others in order to correct errors in your own code. When you submit a computer program as coursework, unless you have a partner, you should have created it, typed it in, documented it, and generated output by yourself. In most courses, you may consult with the professor, teaching assistants, and classmates while designing your solution. Finally, you should attribute any source that helped you design, write, or debug your code.
Collaboration on Group Papers
When you are asked to write collaboratively, be sure that you understand the terms of the collaboration and that you follow them carefully. Consider recording who does what, in terms of writing and research, and make the record available to all collaborators, so that no one will dispute what it contains, should some aspect of the collaboration come into question. If particular students have completed specific tasks (one has done the research, another the drafting, another the editing and citation checking), you might want to make a note of this distribution of labor at the paper’s end. Because you are responsible for the content of any work that bears your name, you should read over any such work before it is submitted.
Assistance in Foreign Language Courses
In courses on non-English languages and literatures, instructors generally evaluate your writing not only on the content of your arguments but also on correct usage of the foreign language. In such courses, you should always ask your professor for instructions on whether, or how, you can seek stylistic or grammatical help while writing in the foreign language.
For example, some language professors encourage students to consult a dictionary first, and only then to ask for help about a specific case—from the professor, a friend whose
knowledge of the foreign language is more advanced, or a host family if you are studying abroad. You should not ask these parties to revise, edit, or correct a draft of your paper, however.
If you consult grammar books, seeking to write at a level significantly exceeding the instruction currently offered in your course, you should cite those reference works. If your language course provides a teaching or writing assistant, always ask your professor exactly how you may use such assistance as you compose and revise written work in the foreign language. Your work should always represent your effort and knowledge both in content as well as in usage of language.
2.C Your Great Idea Is Already Published?
Suppose you come up with an idea and then discover that someone else has already published it. You might feel discouraged, but you could also regard this experience as proof that you, too, are capable of coming up with publishable ideas. Scholarship is a conversation, much of it in print, and becoming a scholar involves joining in. You can enter the conversation in any number of ways, always citing the sources of these ideas.
- You can agree with other scholars but push their ideas a step or two further, or in another direction entirely.
- You can agree with their analyses and then put those same observations and analyses to work on another text, event, or problem.
- You can recast the problem in entirely new terms and point out other scholars’ unacknowledged assumptions.
- You may, after further reading and thought, decide that you disagree with the prevailing critical opinions and proceed from there.
One thing you certainly should not do is proceed as if you had never discovered that someone else already published your idea. Finally, if you are worried about having something original to contribute to the scholarly discussion, make an appointment to see your professor. Do it early in the process. Professors have been facing this predicament for years and know how to help you.
2.D Using and Citing Images, Video, and Audio
As you write essays and develop presentations, you may want to include images, audio, or video clips to make your argument. You may legally use these images, without permission, for academic purposes. You may not, without permission, post your work online or display it in any for-profit setting. To do so would be in violation of U. S. copyright laws.3
When using an illustration in your essay, be sure to cite its source according to your professor’s guidelines or to the guidelines of the department or program in which the course is offered. When creating a film, be sure to cite sources and give credit at the film’s end. If you use images, video, or audio in a presentation, determine a strategy for citation, providing the source on the slide where the borrowed material appears. If this citation practice is not appropriate for the discipline, provide citations at the presentation’s end.
2.E Acknowledging Sources in Presentations
The style of attribution in oral or multimedia presentations varies considerably, but the guiding principle is acknowledgment. Always let your audience know when you are using someone else’s idea or material in your presentation. Say “quote” and “end quote” if you use a passage verbatim. You might also mention when and where a source first appeared because the time and appearance of the idea may provide useful context for the presentation. Saying where the source was published can also add an element of authority. But these details are not necessary as long as you indicate to whom the idea or work belongs. Your audience can see you afterward if they want more details on your sources.
2.F Acknowledging Help
In addition to citing your sources and your collaborators, scholarly practice calls for you to acknowledge those who have helped you develop your work. You may wish to acknowledge comments made in class by other students, consultations with your professors, or other informal conversations. Scholarship has always been a social activity and we get important—even mind-changing—ideas from personal communication all the time. In the absence of guidance from your professor, your conscience and judgment should guide your decisions about acknowledging this help.