Now that you have gone through the processes involved to find and evaluate information, the next step is to start working with it. This is where the Manage pillar comes in: it focuses on the need to organize information professionally and ethically.
It is wonderful to have access to information. It empowers us humans, with data and knowledge that leads us throughout our busy days and helps us organize our leisure time more efficiently. GPS devices and mobile phones help us get to unfamiliar destinations. We can find places to eat, to stay, and to get entertainment. All of this information is at our fingertips due to modern technology. We all take advantage of this technology to some degree and use this information to our advantage.
But there is another type of information—not just the kind that provides directions. We seek such information when we are ill and need to look up medical advice. We also seek information when in school—very few subjects require only the use of a textbook. We need to search for information and then use it in our intellectual work, because every paper or project produced in college is a product of someone’s creativity.
So how should we handle this product of creativity (a.k.a information)? Let’s think about a simple example: apple picking in the fall. It is a popular thing to do, especially here in the Northeast where most of the authors of this textbook live. People come to the farm, get bags or baskets, gather apples, and then line up to weigh them and pay. The farmers’ hard work is being rewarded.
Now imagine a different situation. You worked hard and wrote a very good paper and your roommate just copied a couple of paragraphs and inserted them into her own paper because the topics were related. Was this fair? How were you rewarded for your hard work? Nobody is saying that your roommate should have paid you, as you would pay the farmer for apples. But she should not use your intellectual capital without attribution to you! What she did was an act of plagiarism—you will read more about it soon!
You might publish an article in your college newsletter. This article is your intellectual personal property and you hold the copyright, which means that no one has the right to reproduce all or any part of it (i.e. copy it) without your permission. If your roommate decides to use some information from your article in her paper, she should provide a citation (the information that will help the reader identify and find your article should they decide to do so). If she is using direct quotes from your article, again, she would need to put double quotes around your words and provide information about the author (you, in this instance) to avoid plagiarism. Keep reading to find useful information about avoiding plagiarism.
Copyright and plagiarism are just two aspects of intellectual property that you need to deal with. You have to respect copyright, i.e. the rights of the author and avoid plagiarism. However, there are more aspects to it. Have you heard of patents? If you are planning a career in science and technology-related fields then you also have to learn more about patents. Patents deal with creators’ rights to their invention of new machinery or processes. Plants and design can also be patented. You can find useful information at the United States Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO). Trademarks and trade secrets are other aspects of intellectual property that you may have to deal with.
In addition to being aware of plagiarism, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets, you need to be mindful of open access issues, which relate to valuable research data and academic publications posted online for everybody to read. However, you cannot always just use the data from open access sources. You often need to ask the author for permission. Many open access publications use Creative Commons licensing. You can read more about open access in the Science Literacy chapter.
There is a lot to learn about using information legally and ethically, but this knowledge will empower you in your academic work and ultimately allow you to succeed. The following examples and tips will get you off to a good start.
What is Plagiarism?
In short, plagiarism is when you use words, thoughts, or ideas that belong to someone else without giving them credit. In the classroom (and in the world of publishing), documenting your information sources is the only way others can tell how thorough and careful you’ve been in researching your topic. Have you ever thought about why teachers and professors seem to spend way too much time urging everyone to be sure to cite all of their sources properly? You’ve heard it all before: footnote this, endnote that, put this in the bibliography, capitalize this word, where are the italics, the commas, periods, hanging indents, yada yada yada! It’s enough to make you give up and just wing it. But hold on a second while you gather your thoughts. Why do your professors always spend so much time urging you to do something that seems to have little practical purpose? If you don’t tell readers where your information came from, they may think (and many do) that you either made up the information or “stole” it . Failing to cite your sources is plagiarism.
Keeping Track of Your Sources
As you read each source, write down any of the authors’ ideas, quotes, or thoughts you want to use and be sure to write down page numbers, if the source provides them. When you put your paper together, you will then have all the information you need to properly cite any quote, idea, or thought that came from each source.
This information is often referred to as bibliographic information or metadata. It consists of essential information that identifies the information resource used to inform a research project.
You may not use every single item that you found when you gathered your sources, but having a list of all of the sources you considered will help you keep track of everything you use for your paper.
When to Cite
Now that you have gathered all of your information resources, you need to be mindful about how you used them in your research project. There are some very firm rules about what constitutes plagiarism:
- If you copy a sentence or paragraph verbatim (exactly) from a book, article, website, blog posting, or anywhere online or in print, you must provide information on the author and the publication in which the sentence or paragraph appears. This is known as “citing a source.”
- If you use some of the exact phrases in a sentence or paragraph, even if you are not copying the whole sentence or paragraph, you must cite your source.
- If you use original information that you have obtained from an interview or conversation with someone, you must cite your source.
- If you do not use the exact sentence or phrase but paraphrase it, or use the ideas inherent in the exact sentence or phrase, you must cite your source.
- If you reprint images, maps, diagrams, charts, or tables, you must cite your source.
- If you embed video files or audio files into your work, you must cite your source.
Citing sources and avoiding plagiarism should always be an author’s intent, but it is easy to get confused about how to cite. Citation styles were introduced in the Gather chapter, but it is worth repeating that there are many different citation styles. The three styles that are used most often are APA (American Psychology Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), and Chicago. There are no hard and fast rules about when to use each style. Professors often have a preference for one style over another, so make sure that you check with your instructor about which style they prefer.
Creating properly formatted citations has become easier in recent years with the introduction of reference management software and citation generators. A citation generator is software that will help to correctly format your citations. Some popular citation generators are Noodlebib and Easybib, both are available for a fee. There are also free citation generators available online. You can search the web to retrieve them. These generators are handy to use but they often contain errors so it is important to check the results for accuracy. The following resources are useful tools for all writers.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition for APA citations
- MLA Handbook
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- Citation Fox
You should be able to locate the three manuals in the reference section of your library. Citation Fox is available online.
Where to Go For Help
Even if you are a very organized person and have diligently collected bibliographic information on all of the information resources that you consulted during the research process, you may misplace essential information on a resource. You may think that since you can’t find this information, you will be unable to use it. But there is another option—consult a librarian. Librarians have comprehensive knowledge about how information is organized and retrieved. They also have a wealth of information resources at their fingertips. Even if you can’t retrace your steps to find the missing data, it is likely that a librarian will be able to help you find the bibliographic information you need. Librarians can also help you determine when and how to cite your work. They may even be able to help you navigate citation generators and reference managers. Librarians at your library are available to help you in person, by telephone, and via email and chat. Consult your library’s website for contact information.