Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015
7.2 Adopting good academic practice: referencing and criticality
7 Referring to sources: paraphrase, refer-encing, criticality and the issue of plagiarism
Plagiarism is often thought of as ’copying’, but a more useful definition is ’uncritical and unacknowledged use of other people’s work’ (Badge and Scott, 2009).
Explorative Task (i)
What do you think is meant by ’uncritical’ and ’unacknowledged’ in this context? Compare your ideas with those in the Study Box below.
Study Box: Critical use of sources
Sometimes, you may need to incorporate a relatively straightforward paraphrase of scientific fact (such as the one in 7.1) into your own analysis or investigation. However, you will often be required to engage critically with your sources. You will need to demonstrate your analysis and interpretation of those sources, and to accurately convey the exact sense or argument (the reasoning behind the claims, ideas and opinions) contained within them. Also, much academic scientific writing is an act of persuasion, so you will need to show that you have assessed and evaluated the validity of the assertions, claims, and opinions that you encounter, and examined the credibility of the explanations, evidence and examples put forward in support of them.
You will also need to acknowledge the role of others’ work in your own writing, which always requires careful referencing, and sometimes requires comment. When you use your sources critically, you will see referencing as a positive thing, allowing you to demonstrate that you have read widely, and can position your own work in a wider academic context. References should add depth, interest and credibility to your work.
Explorative Task (ii)
1) In the introduction to a research article below, the references have been removed. Where do you think the authors might make reference to other sources?
Insufficient sleep, defined as inadequate or mistimed sleep, is increasingly recognised as contributing to a wide range of health problems. Multiple epidemiological studies have shown that self-reported short sleep duration (defined in most studies as ≤6 h) is associated with negative health outcomes, such as all-cause mortality, obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and impaired vigilance and cognition. Laboratory studies, in which the sleep of healthy volunteers was restricted, typically to 4 h for 2—6 d, have identified physiological and endocrine variables that may mediate some of these effects, but in general the mechanisms by which insufficient sleep leads to negative health outcomes remain unidentified.
2) Now compare your predictions with the complete text below and answer the questions which follow it.
Insufficient sleep, defined as inadequate or mistimed sleep, is increasingly recognised as contributing to a wide range of health problems (1). Multiple epidemiological studies have shown that self-reported short sleep duration (defined in most studies as ≤6 h) is associated with negative health outcomes, such as all-cause mortality (2), obesity (3), diabetes (4), cardio-vascular disease (5), and impaired vigilance and cognition (6). Laboratory studies, in which the sleep of healthy volunteers was restricted, typically to 4 h for 2—6 d, have identified physiological and endocrine variables that may mediate some of these effects (7), but in general the mechanisms by which insufficient sleep leads to negative health outcomes remain unidentified.
(Moller-Levet et al., 2013)
a) How do the writers indicate that they have analysed, interpreted and evaluated the literature? (Look at the verbs they use — what do they tell us?)
b) How do the writers indicate that they have surveyed the literature on this topic in depth?
c) What part of their analysis of the topic is not referenced?
d) Does there appear to be good reason to accept their conclusion?
Explorative Task (iii)
Look at the conclusion to a research article and answer the questions which follow it.
This study shows that neither recipes created by popular television chefs nor ready meals produced by three leading UK supermarket chains meet national or international nutritional standards for a balanced diet. The recipes seemed to be less healthy than the ready meals on several metrics. Maximum nutritional benefit is likely to be derived from home cooking of nutritionally balanced recipes primarily using raw ingredients, rather than relying on ready meals or recipes by television chefs. Further reformulation of ready meals in line with international nutritional guidelines, and collaboration with television chefs to improve the nutritional quality of their recipes, may also help consumers to achieve a balanced diet.
(Howard et al., 2012)
1) If you were paraphrasing these ideas in the text, which verb would you choose to give an accurate interpretation of the sense of the original?
a) Howard et al. imply that/demonstrate that the recipes created by popular TV chefs are poorer in nutritional value than supermarket ready meals.
b) Howard et al. prove that/conclude that home cooking using raw ingredients is likely to be the best way to achieve a balanced diet.
c) Howard et al. note that/indicate that supermarket meals are actually healthier than the chefs’ recipes in some respects.
d) Howard et al. advocate/point to collaboration with TV chefs and supermarkets to improve the nutritional quality of their products.
2) Complete the summary below so that it reflects the overall argument of the original.
Howard et al. (2012) a)_________that TV chef recipes were as poor in nutritional value as b)____________. Whilst c)_______that the promotion of home cooking with raw ingredients is probably the best way to improve people’s diet, they suggest that collaboration with TV chefs and d) _____________to improve the nutritional quality of their products could also have a e)_________impact.
Note that it is not always necessary to mention the author of a research report in the sentence, e.g.
It has been reported that the nutritional value of the recipes popularised by TV chefs is at least as poor as that of supermarket ready meals (Howard et al., 2012). People looking to improve their diet should not assume that the food prepared by TV chefs is healthy and nutritious (see Howard et al., 2012).
The important thing is to fit the evidence from the source into your own analysis and argument.
This information-focussed referencing is particularly common at the start of a research report, when making very general reference to the literature in order to establish a context, e.g.
The chemistry of metal diynyl and polyynyl complexes is the focus of current intense activity, with potential applications including the construction of one-dimensional molecular wires and metal containing polymers.1,2
(Brown et al., 2010: 2253)
Buildings in the city of Adapazari, Turkey, suffered heavy damage during the 1999 earthquake. Much of the devastation was attributed to the failure of the low plasticity non-plastic silts (Donahue et al. 2007) that had been deposited by the Sakarya River in its almost annual flooding of the plain over the past 7,000 years (Bol et al. 2010).
(Arel and Onalp, 2012: 709)
Explorative Task (iv)
Read the text below and compare the paraphrases which follow. Which paraphrase conveys the sense of the writer’s original argument? How does it do this?
The most obvious differences between different animals are differences of size, but for some reason the zoologists have paid singularly little attention to them. In a large textbook of zoology before me I find no indication that the eagle is larger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus bigger than the hare, though some grudging admissions are made in the case of the mouse and the whale. But yet it is easy to show that a hare could not be as large as a hippopotamus, or a whale as small as a herring. For every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.
(Haldane, 1928, in Dawkins, 2008: 54)
Zoologists at that time paid little attention to differences of size. This can be seen from zoology textbooks, which give no indication that the eagle is bigger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus larger than the hare, though they do mention the mouse and the whale. Yet it is easy to show that a hare could not be as big as a hippopotamus, or a whale as small as a herring. There is a most convenient size for every kind of animal and a large change in size carries with it a change of form.
In 1928, Haldane noted the lack of attention paid to differences of size in different animals, pointing to the very limited discussion of this issue in the zoology textbooks of the time. He argued that it could be easily demonstrated that each species has ’a most convenient size’, and that large differences in size impact on form.
In B, the historical context of Haldane’s views is more clearly signalled, and the use of the reporting verbs noted, pointing to and argued more clearly attributes the ideas to the original source. In A, there is no clear indication that the ideas come from someone other than the person paraphrasing.