Sunday, June 04, 2006

On plagiarism and more...

Arundhati in the comments on the previous post has very succinctly summed up the essence of avoiding plagiarism, but for the hard-of-thinking I'll go over it again.
Firstly, plagiarism is just a fancy word for COPYING. It means both copying verbatim and passing it off as your own work (which is illegal) and copying the ideas and vomiting them out as your own (which is not always illegal but is definitely damaging to your reputation). Now wait a minute, you say. Isn't that what we're taught to do all through school and even in college? True. It's all part of the process of teaching.

Teaching is paradoxical. We fill you up with facts and figures that we already know, and ask you to 'learn' them ie repeat them back to us, but what you don't get told at the outset is WHY we do this and WHAT its supposed to do for you. You figure the purpose of it all slowly as you go along, and college is where it should start to dawn on you. Eventually, when you've climbed the mountain of the syllabus and internalised as much of it as you can hold, we want you to step off the map. College is where you take your first tentative steps into the unknown, by thinking for yourself, by asking questions, by adding to what's known and evaluating, interpreting it. Of course, we hold your hand while you're doing it, and we weigh what you bring back from the edge, but the point is, you have to know where the edge is.

This is where the rules change. Now we still want you to go out there and read secondary material (that is books about books, books of criticism, books that you might call meta-texts) as well as primary material (novels, poems, biographies, etc) but we also want you to begin in a small way adding to what's known. You are now required to start pulling your weight in the academic world. You might say, well, these people we're reading are such bosses, they've covered everything, I can't find something original to say about Paradise Lost!!!! The answer to that is, of course there is something original to say about PL. There always will be. The state of the art today hasn't even scratched the surface of that text, or of any text.
So how do you do it? Read the critics to map the edge. Then hammer them. Ask where they haven't gone far enough, where they've gone too far, where they haven't gone at all. Disagree with them: have a dialogue with them in your head. Then put it on paper. Do the same with the primary text: in fact do it more with the primary text. Your reactions to a text are uniquely your own: they are original without your having to sweat it. You will do this successfully if your school education as yet hasn't dulled you to the point where you no longer react to what you read. Schools mostly try to turn people into buckets full of 'facts': we want you to be crucibles in which facts are transformed. You still have to fill the crucible, but you also have to light the fire underneath.

Now do you see why copying term papers is such a missed opportunity? we give you term papers to do so that you can, in a controlled environment, start to form your own opinions about texts and genres. Finding the material on the web is only the first part of the process. Then you have a dialogue with it, which you report by quoting bits of the material either in quote marks (for small bits) or in stand alone blocks for large bits, with references in both cases, and intermesh them with your own comments and interpretations. Look in any work of criticism worth its salt to see how it's done. Yes, and you have to reference EVERY TIME you quote. You can't just have a sloppy list at the back, huddled away after your name and cool downloaded pictures. If that means you mention a site fifty times, so be it. Also be alert to subpages in sites: your browser bar will tell you when you've followed a link to a sub page. You also have to give the date accessed along with the stable URL. You don't need to mention your browser or OS. Images also have to be referenced.

This is becoming a very long post. I'll let you chew this bit, and continue my rant next time....

10 comments:

Srin said...

May I put down opinions that are not supported by any academic sources, ie, metatexts?

Erythrocyte said...

Absolutely, so long as they're your own opinions, and you can back them up with some kind of reasoning. you need to read the critics primarily so you don't reinvent the wheel. I've seen lots of bright young things spend their energy setting up and defending an argument that has already been thrashed out in the discourse (but which they hadn't come across). They get credit for original thinking, of course, but academically they've produced a bit of a redundancy, and would have been better off knowing the field first.
Having said that WE WANT YOUR ORIGINAL OPINIONS. Goddit? If in doubt plunge in; the teacher will be kind enough to tell you if its been done before, and point you in the right direction.
Hope this makes sense :)

IndianArchie said...

My first time on your blog. Sadly, I didnt read any of the posts, reason being they are MASSES of text, and thus intimidating!

May I suggest you break up text into small paras (yep you did in this post....) and leave a blank line between them too..just so light shines thru the great wall of text.

IndianArchie
Musings that Amuse
Think Dull

panu said...

Here we have a very confusing argument, I must say... I mean, we know copy-paste is a crime, but even the great 'peare copy pasted a lot from others. And we know we aint no peer in this business of writing term papers (Much like the dearly departed Kaavya B) but I would like to ask a very concrete question here, without any further bull: if we partially quote a webpage then it is plagiarism, but then, when we do NOT name names of any particular source, but write down everything we've gleaned from it, omitting simply the name of the source, and get away with it, then? It is not a question of copying then, but how far can we get away with copying....

forgive my insolence, but I merely speak from experience.

Erythrocyte said...

@ panu. Rot. Do not bring Shakespeare into this. Please read my post again. To aswer:
'I would like to ask a very concrete question here, without any further bull: if we partially quote a webpage then it is plagiarism,'
Learn the difference between quoting (legitimate) and plagiarism (not).

but then, when we do NOT name names of any particular source, but write down everything we've gleaned from it, omitting simply the name of the source, and get away with it, then?'
Get away with it? in your dreams, baby.
No, seriously, you're only cheating yourself by doing it. If you're that sad and persist after warnings, then I'm afraid you'll get it in the neck.

Erythrocyte said...

@ Indianrarchie. Clearly your attention span matches that of your namesake.

panu said...

thats exactly it... we say that we are cheating ourselves, but umm... what if they are conscienceless creatures who can do nothing else???


Just a thought.

Erythrocyte said...

Well, if you do that at JUDE at the most you'll flunk. Do it in the real world and you could lose your job/home/partner/juicy book advance. Your call.

Anonymous said...

I suppose you people can read the text, read the critics , read some of the stuff other people have written around that time , also what the author might have written, read up a little relevant history and then maybe write something ...with due credit to quotes .. thats what erythrocyte's trying to say basically ... READ and WRITE ... otherwise its no use studying literature .

panu said...

juicy book advance.....


NOOOO!!!