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Use of Sources and Plagiarism
Some guidance may be helpful on the use of sources such as books and articles in the writing of essays that are to be submitted for assessment. It is, of course, expected that students will make use of sources in their essays, and it is often desirable that a particular viewpoint found in a printed source should be expounded and discussed. But it is important that your reader be left in no doubt about what you are doing when you use sources, and this can be ensured by following some elementary conventions.
Observance of these conventions is good scholarly practice. It gives to the authors whose work has been used what is due to them. It enables a tutor to know whose work he is commenting on and assessing. It ensures that the writer does not fall under suspicion of dishonest work - passing off as his own the mental work of others.
But it is perfectly possible to observe these conventions and yet to fall short, in the use of sources, of the kind of independence that is necessary if one's work is to be of real value. The proper use of sources can only be learnt by experience and through the comments of tutors, who are always willing to give advice on particular cases. Some general remarks may, however, be useful.
Generally speaking verbatim quotations should be confined to short passages, and should have a specific purpose: e.g. you may wish to discuss the meaning of a particular word or sentence. Quoted passages should never be strung together in place of extended exposition. Intelligent selection of such passages may deserve some credit, but very little since it gives little evidence that the material is understood.
'Paraphrase' can include a variety of things. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as 'free rendering or amplification of a passage, expression of its sense in other words'. The latter can cover the humble activity of rewriting the passage with systematic minor changes; certain words replaced by synonymous words or phrases, with changes in grammatical construction, and so on - a rather mechanical process. But paraphrase can be the activity of re-expressing the content of a passage in a way that frees it from obscurity, presents its points in a more perspicuous order, and brings out the structure of its argument by identifying the conclusion and distinguishing the various premises and revealing their relationships. The important distinction to grasp is between slavish paraphrase and critical paraphrase. The slavish variety is in general to be avoided (whether acknowledged or not) because it can be done even with the most superficial understanding of the passage that is being re-expressed . An essay which consists largely, or even wholly, of critical paraphrase can on the other hand be of great value to the student. To be able to articulate an argument independently, as distinct from parroting it, is an achievement in itself, and is also the best way into the more ambitious task of criticism.
It is a good idea to practise the art of critical paraphrase not only when writing an essay but also when making preparatory notes on your reading. It is also a good idea in note-taking to observe the conventions of using quotation marks and noting sources. The former is a good training, and the latter is a way of making sure that you do not inadvertently incorporate quoted material into an essay, having forgotten that you had copied it verbatim into your notes.
Use of Other Students' Work
Copying another student's essay, in whole or in part, or copying answers to questions set as exercises, is clearly indefensible, and such work will not be accepted. At the same time there is a place for collaboration and mutual assistance. In cases where a student wishes to submit work which is indebted to discussion with other students, an appropriate acknowledgement can be made. If you are in doubt about whether what you are doing is legitimate, or might be misunderstood, consult the tutor for whom the work is to be submitted.
Penalties for Plagiarism
In the foregoing an attempt has been made to give guidance on how to avoid inadvertent misappropriation of work of others. Deliberate misappropriation is plagiarism, which is an academic offence under the Rules of the University. Serious plagiarism in a particular piece may be penalised by the award of a zero mark. Persistent plagiarism is subject to more severe penalties, including, in extreme cases, exclusion from the University.
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