Loyola University Chicago

Department of English

The Use and Misuse of Source Materials

The Use and Misuse of Source Materials

The people who live and work at a university are often known for their unusual diversity of conviction and lifestyle. This variety is a consequence of what draws most of us to the academic life, namely an extraordinary degree of freedom. But for all this diversity of belief and behavior, what holds this enterprise together is a demanding ideal, a commitment to search for and to say the truth as we honestly perceive it. In the absence of this shared standard the university could not survive: as long as this standard is respected, a genuine learning community can exist. For this reason, both honesty and accuracy are essential in all academic endeavors. As students of Loyola University Chicago, you share in this freedom, but you are also called upon to know, to respect, and to practice this standard of personal honesty.

What follows is an extended discussion of the practical application of this ideal in the activities of research and composition. Despite what may appear at times a negative tone, we want you to understand that the University is before all else a community of trust, and on that foundation we all succeed or fail.

I. Footnotes, Endnotes, and Parenthetical Documentation

The English department recognizes that instructors in the University recommend several different styles of documentation to their students. The most commonly used system is that established by the Modern Language Association (MLA), and it is the style described first in your handbook. Several other styles are described in the handbook as well, and you will probably use the handbook as a reference work on documentation many times over the course of your college career, which is one reason that you should hold onto the handbook as a reference work. If you are in doubt as to what method your instructor prefers, be sure to ask. Any system of documentation is essentially a set of conventions designed to ensure that you provide all important information about your sources in a systematic and thorough way. Whatever style you use, be sure to use it consistently and carefully.

You should know, also, that even the MLA style has changed over time. The most traditional method of documenting sources is to use footnotes, which provide publication information at the bottom of each page on which you refer to a source. A later development is endnotes: a list of notes at the end of the paper. In 1984, however, the Modern Language Association recommended a new system, so-called "parenthetical" references in the text, followed by a list of works cited at the end of the paper. In this system, quotations and any other references to source material are followed by parentheses containing the author's name, a space, and the page number from which the information was taken; if the author's name is mentioned in the text, it is omitted from the parenthetical citation. Some instructors still prefer footnotes or endnotes, however; please be sure to check with your instructor, in every course involving research, to find out what style of documentation he or she prefers.

In recent years, the need to document electronic sources, especially sites on the World Wide Web, has posed a new challenge, but the responsibility to acknowledge online sources is the same as the responsibility to acknowledge printed sources, or sources in any other media. Your handbook includes materials on finding and documenting electronic sources, and the Loyola University Libraries also provide various forms of guidance for research.

II. Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the intentional or unintentional appropriation of ideas, language, or work of another without sufficient acknowledgement that the material is not one's own. Although it is generally recognized that everything an individual has thought has probably been influenced to some degree by the previously expressed thoughts and actions of others and that therefore no thought can be considered purely original, such influences are general ones, affecting an entire way of seeing things and expressing thoughts. Plagiarism, however, involves the taking of specific words or ideas of others without proper acknowledgement.

Some students seem to believe that there are different degrees of plagiarism, some of which are not as bad as others. The English Department wishes to make it clear here that no distinctions should be made between the following acts and that all should be regarded as serious and wrong:

  • Copying from a published or online source, or a source in any medium, without proper documentation
  • Purchasing a pre-written paper
  • Letting someone else write a paper for you or paying someone to do so
  • Submitting as your own someone else's unpublished work, either with or without permission

Regardless of how you found the information, if you use another person's work to further your own understanding of a topic, you must give that person credit by documenting your source.

III. Forms of Plagiarism

The following five passages are taken from professional critics' discussions of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and all deal with the subject of the two narrators in the novel. (In the novel, Lockwood, the primary narrator, recounts to the reader the story of Heathcliff and Catherine as he has learned it. One of his sources of information is Nelly Dean, who gives Lockwood her version of the events which have passed.) The examples and comments which follow these four passages illustrate acceptable and unacceptable ways to use these secondary source materials.

Source #5 The chronology of Wuthering Heights is carefully planned, but the narrative time does not flow in an unbroken line from the past to the present. Rather it shifts between the present and the past and then back again several times. There are also shifts in point of view. The novel begins with Lockwood's recounting of his year at the Grange, then shifts to Nelly Dean's remembrances, and at times a third voice reports on an event at which Nelly was not present.

Jeanne M. McGlinn and James E. McGlinn, "A Teacher's Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights" 3 June 2005 static/pdf/teachersguides/wuthering.pdf> 8.

A. Word-for-Word Copying: Material taken directly from a source must be enclosed in quotation marks and the source identified in a footnote, endnote or parenthetical citation. Your instructors will specify which form of documentation to use for each course.

Source: "For Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte went so far as to use two narrators. The first is Lockwood, a genteel newcomer whose dilettante romanticism throws into shocking contrast the stormy, alien nature of the protagonist Heathcliff. (Without Lockwood's presence as a corrective foil, the reader might suppose Heathcliff himself to be a conventional romantic hero.) Nelly Dean, the second narrator, expresses a warm and humane norm whereby the reader, sharing many of her values, can gauge the wretchedness of the isolated families on the moors."

Richard M. Eastman, A Guide to the Novel (San Francisco: Chandler, 1965) 35.

Plagiarized: The first of Emily Bronte's two narrators is Lockwood, a genteel newcomer whose dilettante romanticism contrasts with the stormy and alien nature of the protagonist Heathcliff. Nelly Dean, the second narrator, expresses a warm and humane norm.

Comment: This passage is almost completely copied from source #1. The substitution of a word or two of the writer's own for Eastman's (e.g., "contrasts" for "throws into shocking contrast,") and the omission of the conclusion of Eastman's sentence about Nelly Dean do not turn this passage into a paraphrase nor excuse the absence of quotation marks around the copied material.

Acceptable: In writing about the function of Lockwood as narrator, Richard Eastman comments on the contrast between Lockwood's "dilettante romanticism" and the "stormy, alien nature of the protagonist Heathcliff" (35). [The list of "Works Cited" appears below, following section "E."]

B. Mosaic: Mosaic, the embedding in the student's own prose of unacknowledged words and phrases from a source (or sources), is equally unacceptable.

Source: "The roles of the two narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, are not casual. Their function (they are the two most "normal' people in the book) is partly to keep the story close to the earth, to make it believable, partly to comment on it from a common sense point of view and thereby to reveal in part the inadequacy of such common sense. They act as a kind of sieve to the story, sometimes a double sieve, which has the purpose not simply of separating off the chaff, but of making us aware of the difficulty of passing easy judgments. One is left always with the sense that the last word has not been said."

Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Bros., 1960) 1: 141.

Plagiarized: In the novel Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte uses two different narrators, Mr. Lockwood, a stranger to Yorkshire , and Nelly Dean, a former servant of the Linton family. They are the two most normal people in the book. They belong to the world of practical reality, and their commonplace vision acts as a sieve to the story, enabling readers to weigh and evaluate what they see. The novel starts with Lockwood's recounting of his year at the Grange, and later shifts to Nelly Dean's remembrances.

Comment: The writer of this passage has copied several key words and phrases from sources #2, #3, and #5. These must be acknowledged even when the writer's own prose makes up the majority of the passage.

Acceptable: Bronte's Wuthering Heights incorporates more than one point of view: it "begins with Lockwood's recounting of his year at the Grange, then shifts to Nelly Dean's remembrances" (McGlinn and McGlinn 8). Arnold Kettle compares the role of these two narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, to that of a sieve: "They act as a kind of sieve to the story, sometimes a double sieve, which has the purpose not simply of separating off the chaff, but of making us aware of the difficulty of passing easy judgments" (1: 141). Van Ghent sees them as belonging "firmly to the world of practical reality" (189).

C. Paraphrase: All ideas which originate in a student's source must be acknowledged in a footnote, even if those ideas are expressed entirely in the student's own words.

Source: "But this nakedness from the web of familiar morality and manners is not quite complete. There is the framework formed by the convention of narration (the "point of view"): we see the drama through the eyes of Lockwood and Nelly Dean, who belong firmly to the world of practical reality. Sifted though the idiom of their commonplace vision, the drama taking place among the major characters finds contact with the temporal and the secular. Because Lockwood and Nelly Dean have witnessed the incredible violence of the life at the Heights, or rather, because Nelly Dean has witnessed the full span and capacity of that violence and because Lockwood credits her witness, the drama is oriented in the context of the psychologically familiar."

Dorothy Van Ghent, The English Novel: Form and Function (1953; New York : Harper & Row, 1967) 189.

Plagiarized: We are forced to identify with Lockwood, and the result of our looking at the action from his point of view as well as that of Nelly Dean is that we see the story as if it were a dramatic production; meanwhile the great inquisitiveness of the urbane visitor from the south and the surprise of the uncomplicated female servant develop into a compliment to the power of the play whose progress they recount.

Comment: Here, the writer has simply substituted his or her own words for Allen's words in #4, with no apparent purpose other than to avoid the appearance of too much quotation. The writer has not properly credited the source, and in addition the result is awkward.

Acceptable: Walter Allen comments that we watch the action of the novel unfold from the point of view of the two narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, as if we were watching a play; the urbane Lockwood's curiosity and the awe of the less complicated Nelly Dean highlight the dramatic quality of the story. Like us, Allen notes, they are the action's audience (198). [If you quote from, summarize, or paraphrase the same page of a source within a single paragraph—and no other citations of sources come between these repeated uses—you may cite the source once, after the final use. Otherwise, you must repeat the citation at the end of each sentence.]

D. Summary of a single source

A condensation of ideas taken from a single source must be given proper acknowledgement.

Source: "We are compelled to identify ourselves with Lockwood, and the effects of our seeing everything partly through his eyes and partly through Nelly Dean's is, as it were, to see the action framed, almost as though on a stage; while the enormous curiosity of the sophisticated southerner and the awe of the simple peasant woman become themselves a tribute to the intensity of the drama whose unfolding is being reported, they serve not merely to heighten the drama but to underline its significance and its scope, for Lockwood and Nelly are essentially spectators."

Walter Allen, The English Novel 
          (London: Penguin, 1954) 198.

Plagiarized: The role of the narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, is two-fold: they contribute an element of realism to the story (they appear so normal that we tend to believe what they say), but also their very normality gives us pause—perhaps the "normal" view of life is not the only one.

Comment: Although the entire passage is in the writer's own words, the idea is a summary of Kettle's point #2. (Summary differs from paraphrase only in that in summary the thought has been condensed as well as rephrased.)

Acceptable: [For the passage to be acceptable, Kettle should be mentioned by name in the writer's text, and the summary should be followed by a citation.] According to Arnold Kettle, the role of the narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, is two-fold: they contribute an element of realism to the story (they appear so normal that we tend to believe what they say), but also their very normality gives us pause—perhaps the "normal" view of life is not the only one (1: 141).

E. Summary of several sources

It is acceptable to summarize the ideas from several different sources in a single paragraph or section of a paper, but only if you acknowledge all sources used. A collective footnote may be use to advantage here.

Plagiarized: The two narrators in Wuthering Heights have many functions. First, they serve as spectators of the action, spectators whose involvement in the story is a measure of its power. Second, their normality forms a link between the strangeness of the world of the novel and the real world of every day. Finally, they lead us to question the reliability of the common sense view of life, which here so often leaves us with a sense of unsolved mystery.

Comment: The writer here has summarized the main ideas of #4 (in his "first" point), of #s 1, 2, and 3 (in the second), and of #2 ("Finally. . .").

Acceptable: Critics have noticed several different functions served by the two narrators of Wuthering Heights First, Lockwood and Nelly Dean serve as spectators of the action, spectators whose involvement in the story is a measure of its power (Allen 198). Second, their normality forms a link between the strangeness of the world of the novel and the real world of every day (Eastman 35; Kettle 1: 141; Van Ghent 189). Finally, they lead us to question the reliability of the common sense view of life which here so often leaves us with a sense of unsolved mystery (Kettle 1:141).

IV. Help, Acceptable and Unacceptable

Thus far we have explained the use and misuse of online or published materials. However, in the course of completing a writing assignment, a writer has access to several kinds of informal assistance, much of it not only proper but even essential to the way we shape and develop our ideas. Such assistance may occur at various stages and range from cafeteria discussions of newly discovered ideas to proofreading the final draft of a manuscript. The more frequent kinds of help are discussed below. All such assistance, however, should be evaluated according to a few general principles: 1) Any changes in a paper resulting from assistance are the writer's responsibility; 2) Formal acknowledgment of help, from whatever source, tends to strengthen the authority and integrity of a paper rather than weaken it; 3) Your own growth in learning, rather than gaining a higher grade, should be the primary purpose for seeking help; and 4) Apart from the ethics of the act, the practical disadvantage for students who accept help without learning is that they are then even more vulnerable when they must face a writing assignment without the help.

A. Critical Response

Anyone may read your paper and give you general responses, e.g. to questions such as: Is it long enough? Too long? Too detailed? Too vague? Logically developed? Well organized? Clear in its intent and response to audience concerns? Responses to such general questions are helpful to a writer. Problems arise, however, when responses are accompanied by specific suggestions for revision. If you receive a detailed list of alternative words, sentences, or thoughts to replace your own work, then you have received too much help. In effect, the final paper which included such revisions has been written by two people.

B. Rewriting

You must do all of your own rewriting. If you record your own thoughts and then allow someone else to alter the expression of those thoughts, your final paper is a joint effort and not entirely your own work.

C. Word-processing or Typing

Someone else may type your paper for you, but in the process, the typist or keyboardist must not change anything in the text you provide, not even misspellings or paragraphing, without conferring with you about these changes. If someone else types your paper, you must proofread the final copy with constant reference to your original to make sure that all of the final work is yours. Errors and unacknowledged borrowings, made with or without your knowledge, in the text you submit for credit are your responsibility.

D. Proofreading

Anyone may read your work to check for typographical errors, spelling mistakes or grammatical errors and may even inform you of the errors, but you, the writer, must make all revisions yourself.

To repeat:

If you have questions about the acceptability of a particular kind of help, you should ask someone in authority before accepting that help.

NOTE: We are grateful to the many colleges and universities that shared their materials on plagiarism with us, especially to Dartmouth College and Mt. Holyoke College.