I need help with crediting sources appropriately

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I need help with crediting sources appropriately

Postby AteoAltruist on Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:51 pm

I'm confused about when to credit sources. Details... that devil's always naggin' me.

I get quotes, original words/ideas, and common knowledge. Many topics I'll write about aren't new; sometimes "ideas are in the wind." -- John Lennon. Good so far. This, I find nebulous: "Recent studies confirm amateur writers plagiarize unwittingly." Do I cite? How common does knowledge have to be to be considered common knowledge?

Is it wrong to rewrite my own article, (sold or unsold), if I revise it without lifting a paragraph directly out of 1st and pasting into the 2nd? (How about a sentence?)

Of course I don't want to learn by having my account terminated, but even more important to me, I don't want to steal any more than I want someone stealing from me. Quotes, original words or ideas eh? Is that all there is to it? I'm just not sure and that bothers me.

Thanks guys. You know an amateur can use all the help he can get. -- Me. Next question... first person POV. :)
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Re: I need help with crediting sources appropriately

Postby SJHillman on Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:40 am

I generally avoid quotes unless it's absolutely necessary to use those exact words either for concision or because the person being quoted lends that much of an authority to the matter. When citing paraphrasing, it looks best if it's right in the sentence. IE: "A study by IBM recently found that..." or "Recent studies by Stanford, Harvard and other universities have shown that..."

As for "What is common knowledge?", you can use a similar question to what lawyers sometimes use. What would a reasonable person on the street know? If you were to walk down the street and ask a stranger at random, do you think it's likely that they would know that fact? If yes, then it would be considered common knowledge. If your article is a niche piece, then you're better off asking yourself if you stopped by a local meeting of people in that niche, would most of them know that fact already? Odds are that if it's already common knowledge then you don't need to mention it at all unless it's directly relevant to adjoining thoughts in your article.

Common knowledge: The sky is blue (no citation needed)
Common knowledge in most groups: The sky is blue because light is refracted by the atmosphere (citation only needed for a few audiences)
Less common knowledge: The atmosphere refracts light because oxygen and nitrogen molecules blah blah blah (Citation needed unless target audience are expected to be familiar with the concept: IE: chemists, physicists, science teachers)
Very uncommon knowledge: Oxygen and nitrogen atoms interact with photons at specific wavelengths because ... (Citation pretty much always needed)
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Re: I need help with crediting sources appropriately

Postby J. A. Young on Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:43 am

Now that you mention it, I'd say this is a good topic to address. Clearly, there's no pulling sentences from other parties without doing direct quotes, but I think you might be getting at the more subtle art of translating research into your own text. Often, I will weave my sources into a piece, particularly if it's scientific or health-related. For one, that's an ethical thing. If I'm writing a nutrition article, for instance, I want my readers to know that I was using reputable sources. So, to that end, all I might need to weave in is "according to the New England Journal of Medicine" or "Mayo Clinic asserts" and then use them to back up what I want to convey. I think by weaving in just one or two sources--even if they're just mentions--rescues you from worrying about idea theft, but it also lends weight to your writing. I have one client where I'm weaving in direct quotes every paragraph--they want that:) But, I'll tell you one thing I learned--while these pieces look a bit clunky to me with links all over the place, the articles are really filled with a lot of depth and I now find myself weaving in many more sources to work I generate for other clients or the ones I write on my own. Plus, many of us are expert in a field or even a couple. I can write about libraries and literature as an authority, but I have to be careful in other areas to "not" come off as anything but a journalist sharing information I've discovered and weaving it into new angles for readers. In order for me to do that, I think I do have to let my readers know something about where I got this information--without writing up a page of references.

Well, I hope that helps and it does depend on the nature of the topic to some extent and even what a client may want. On the other hand, if you are reading the same thing--let's say it's SEO tricks or tips for making a great website and you're reading similar things in your research and those things are now part of your common knowledge base, I doubt you need to worry about quotes unless you want to pull a direct quote. In the website thing, everyone's going to mention, "easy-to-navigate" so that's hardly worth a reference and the articles you've researched probably didn't reference it either.

The best tip I could offer is to pay close attention to the articles you do read for research. See how other writers handle a similar topic. I'm pretty particular about my news, for instance, and if I can't find the particular info. I need from a trusted source, I tend to steer my piece a different way. So, when you use a few good sources, a little bit of their good reputation rubs off--readers know you're passing on solid information...so long as you don't pass on the width and breadth of their article or lift anything word for word without quotes, you should be fine. Good luck!
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Re: I need help with crediting sources appropriately

Postby AteoAltruist on Wed Feb 27, 2013 1:55 am

Wow, great insights. That helps more than I can say. Being so new, my stuff might be too amateurish to sell too terribly much, I don't know yet. But, I've had fun climbing a bit of the learning curve, with a LOT of help from people like you guys.

Thank you!

--edit--
I forgot to ask: I'm not suggesting spinning--or any other unethical tactic--but what about rewriting my own work? Are my own phrases off limits if I write on the same topic? (Sounds silly, I know, but yes... I'm that clueless.)

Thanks again
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Re: I need help with crediting sources appropriately

Postby SJHillman on Wed Feb 27, 2013 4:47 am

It would be unethical to write the same article twice just using different words. However, if you add new information, change perspective or do something else that changes the information or meaning of the article, then it's fine. You'll want to avoid quoting yourself or even uncited paraphrasing. There is such a thing as self-plagiarism, which can get even more complicated if you quote an unsold article that later sells for full rights because then the citation becomes "wrong" - full rights effectively shifts the source from you to the buyer. Likewise, automated plagiarism checkers may flag it.

In a nutshell, if you tackle the same topic then be sure to change your angle of attack or the information provided and be very careful not to reuse the same phrases. If you must quote or paraphrase a previous article, I would only use articles that have sold to avoid potential pitfalls around shifting sources.
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Re: I need help with crediting sources appropriately

Postby J. A. Young on Wed Feb 27, 2013 7:10 am

...or, reuse your research--not your article! That said, and this is really personally gratifying, but once upon a time I concentrated heavily on gardening and landscape writing. They sold well, but I also had a busy full-time position and the garden writing was really this great way to escape a long day and wind down. Now, when I want to cover something like a Japanese tea garden or medieval style garden and I'm hunting for research I know I once knew but forgot, I invariably stumble on my own articles posted out there and they help when I want to revisit a similar topic. A few writers here really know how to get the most out of their research time. There's one writer who I marvel at--she'll cover a topic from four or five different sides and really make the most of her time. I can't usually do that unless I have to. I like to jump around a lot--travel article, gardening, marketing, tech, back to travel...

Also, don't let feeling new bog you down. Just write about things you're interested in. You don't have to be an expert in any field simply to read about it and then write up your readings from an angle that is comfortable for you. But SJ is perfectly correct--you can get busted for self-plagiarism. But don't confuse a rewrite with revisiting the same topic. You can write more than one article about tea gardens, for example--Five Great Tea Gardens of California (yeah, don't take that one--I may want to knock that one out;) ), Origins of the Japanese Tea Garden, Tea Garden Make-Over for a Shady Backyard, Props and Ornaments for Your Japanese Tea Garden, How to Install a Japanese Tea Garden...you get the idea!

And then...just build your portfolio taking care to see what sells and go from there!
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