Citing, referencing and academic integrity - Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Citing, referencing and academic integrity
Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism

Citing and referencing lie at the heart of what it means to be a scholar within your discipline. You are part of an academic community of students and professional academics who are developing written arguments using evidence and reasoning. It is extremely rare to write an assignment or academic paper that does not make reference to the work of others. Indeed, whether showing your understanding of your discipline, or as an academic pushing back the boundaries of knowledge, you do so by building on the work of others. As Sir Isaac Newton, the British physicist and mathematician, said so eloquently in his letter dated 5 February 1675 to his colleague Robert Hooke, ’If I have been able to see farther than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants.’

When you write for academic purposes, it is only by citing and fully referencing the work of others that your reader can:

✵Appreciate where your work is positioned within the discipline.

✵Check the credibility of the sources you have used.

✵Confirm that you have interpreted those sources correctly.

✵Examine how you have assembled sources to provide a balanced account, or perhaps selected sources to promote a particular position or viewpoint.

✵Assess the strength of the evidence and reasoning in support of your argument.

✵Determine how you have critically analysed, synthesised and applied the work of others.

✵Establish your contribution, in terms of what you have brought to the argument by thinking independently and perhaps gathering evidence of your own (for example, by observation, experiment or survey).

As a student, you are being ’trained’ in your academic or vocational discipline. Academic research is challenging, time-consuming and often expensive. So too is the reporting of that research, in writing. Morally, it is right that an individual’s contribution to the field should be acknowledged by others, by them properly citing and referencing his or her work. Beyond that, academic writing is intellectual property.

A person, group or organisation can ’own’ an idea, or the form of its expression in the public domain. Form of expression in writing is linked to the concept of plagiarism. As a professional, being found committing plagiarism has financial implications. Apart from a person’s professional integrity being challenged, which will impact upon their career, they may have to pay compensation (see, for example, Batty, 2008). For you as a student, it is comparatively easy for your assessor to find whether you have committed plagiarism. If you have, and you are at an early stage in your student career, it is an opportunity for you to develop correct academic practice. Later in your student career, being found committing plagiarism can result in you failing an assignment, a module, or your entire course.

Lastly, academic publications, each citing and referencing earlier publications, create an interconnected web of knowledge that stretches back in time (Neville, 2010). That network of connections can be followed, and through citing and referencing, the development of ideas, the gathering of facts and data, and their interpretation by successive generations, can be traced. This is vital for understanding the development of an academic discipline and for following the rise and fall of ideas within and between disciplines.

What I hope is emerging from the foregoing discussion is that acknowledging sources is much more than an annoying convention with which you have to comply. It underpins the very nature of your discipline. The body of knowledge, the practices of the discipline and the people who engage in them are the discipline. Undermine any of them and you threaten the integrity of the discipline itself.

Latin abbreviations

Scattered among academic text you might find Latin abbreviations such as ’et al.’ and ’ibid.’; ’et al.’ is short for et alii, meaning ’and others’, and is commonly used where citations refer to three or more authors. Using ’et al.’ avoids having to list in a citation all the authors of a source; for example, ’Smith, Jones, Curruthers and Sparkle (2017)’ becomes ’Smith et al. (2017)’. It is, in most cases, the practice to list all the authors in the reference entry at the end of the document. The word ’ibid.’ is short for ibidem, meaning ’in the same place’. It is used as a citation to indicate that the last named citation is being repeated. Strictly, ’et al.’ and ’ibid.’ should have a full stop after them, because they are abbreviations.