Gathering Sources: 7 Tips for Citing Research Sources, Avoiding Plagiarism, and Easing Publication

Writers, researchers, and editors can fall down on the key task of tracking and documenting sources—thereby giving themselves a whole lot of trouble later on. However, you and I (all of us—writers, researchers, and editors) can avoid the mess with these tips for good habits. These habits will ease publication and endear you to your editor, publisher, and readers. (Two librarians with whom I’ve been working as editor have brought this home many times, so thanks to J&P for inspiring this entry with their careful work – and the many other people over the years!)
7 Tips 

  1. Unless all your writing is entirely original to you and coming exclusively from your head, heart, and life, note your sources and influences.
  2. Learn what plagiarism means in all its forms. Consider that you don’t have to think “I’m going to steal those exact words from that writer” in order to plagiarize; some acts of plagiarism are unintentional. However, writers are still responsible for plagiarism even if it’s by mistake. Writers at all levels—college student to New York Times journalist and Ph.D. candidate—have made this mistake.
  3. Using a computer can make research, taking notes, and drafting all easier—but they also make plagiarizing by mistake easier. (And, unlike in the “old days,” you won’t have the memory of writing out something in longhand to know that you did quote this but summarize that.) If you electronically copy and paste text from sources, note the source for each and every pasting. Do NOT depend on certain colours or underlining or other formatting tricks to differentiate sources, quotations, paraphrases, summaries, and your own original words; if your special formatting “falls off” your electronic files, you could inadvertently plagiarize.
  4. If you paraphrase, note the source and save both the original and your paraphrase. Later on, double-check your paraphrase to the original and revise if necessary. Have you carefully represented the source in your own words?
  5. Start source notes right at the beginning of your idea/research/writing stages—in other words, yesterday. Use any combination of the following that works for you and is thorough:
    – printouts and photocopies in a file folder
    – an MS Word document that notes sources, general references referred to, sources quoted in Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, etc., sources paraphrased, etc.
    – bookmarked websites in a bookmark folder of favourites
    – a file of sources tracked through an electronic citations program, such as EndNote, BibMe, or BibDesk
  6. Save elaborate, thorough notes for editors and pass them along (tidied up). Go beyond the minimum requirements. Even if the final publication format does not require citations, save source notes. For example, note:
    – specific sources for each and every quotation
    – specific sources for each and every paraphrase, plus the original text as reference
    – sources that generally informed a certain chapter or the whole manuscript
    – comments on the authority of a source
    – comments about conflicting information from sources
    (For more about what editors do specifically, see Editorial Notes: Pass-Along Notes to Ease Publication. )
  7. Update yourself about both the big and little issues of writing, research, and sources. For example, sure, update about Chicago Manual of Style citation methods or the MLA (Modern Language Association of America) style, but also look at print and online sources such as the following:
    The Research Virtuoso, by the Toronto Public Library
    – The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth et al
    Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL)
    the Harvard Guide to Using Sources: Avoiding Plagiarism 
© Laura Edlund 2010