About six months ago Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German Defense Minister at that time, was on everyone’s lips. The Internet platform Wikiplag established proof that zu Guttenberg had cheated in his dissertation, five years ago. He had copied more than half of “his” work without indicating any references. The whole story becomes even more remarkable when you consider the slogan under which zu Guttenberg is still promoting his website: “responsibility is a commitment”. So let’s commit ourselves to responsibility and go the right way of citing the references in our scientific works to avoid plagiarism, which is in no way acceptable—not only in scientific work, but in any area of life.
There are, of course, some rules to follow in order to make clear which ideas in your paper are your own and which ones originally belonged to someone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with copying and pasting as long as you indicate the source you got it from. In fact, referenced verbatim quoting is considered good scholarship, and only translation scholars do now and then change this to introduce a translation in the body of the text and (always!) the original in a footnote, to keep with both the scholarly norm and the translators’ commitment of making reading reasonably easy.
Rule #1 Give the reference(s) of any idea you are using in your work that is not your own.
Anything that has not been referenced at all will be understood as your own ideas. That is why you should consider it an ethical commitment and a scientific obligation to spell out the references wherever you have taken in some way some other people’s thoughts. Quite difficult to get the feeling for it, right? But believe me, you will get used to it quite fast. The sooner you start quoting correctly (here comes the best part of it all), the earlier you will start feeling real good about your work. Not only because you “come clean” and show your colleagues you have nothing to hide, but also because you realize your work becomes part of a net.
Rule #2: Any reference should at least comprise the standard bibliographical data.
These data are basically the author’s/authors’ name(s), the year, the title, the city, and the publishing house. Of course, they have to be expanded where necessary. You should give all the bibliographical data available on each reference. Reference management software like Citavi, Endnote and Mendeley (see also here) is easy to handle and saves you a lot of work once you know how to use them. Just try them out.
So, let me put it this way: your piece of work is an atom from a molecule, or one more brick in the enormous building of knowledge. If you don’t link it to the body of knowledge upon which it stands, O Lord, the winds of oblivion will just sweep your paper away from the surface of Earth. You have been warned. In my next post I will give you some additional hints.
Allen, Timothy T. Comp. 2000. Citing References in Scientific Research Papers.
Holland Jones, James. 2010. A Style Guide for Scientific Research Papers. StanfordUniversity.
ResearchConsultation.com. 2007. Dissertation Reference & Thesis Citation Help
for Doctoral & Graduate Students.
by P. Klimant