In the past few months we have talked about the importance of finding reputable sources for academic papers and why students shouldn't "just google it." We also touched on why Wikipedia is not a reputable source to cite in an academic paper in Writing tip #21: I can't use Wikipedia? According to Turnitin, Wikipedia remains the most popular single source for student-matched content on the Web (see "Plagiarism and the Web: Myths and Realities" white paper). For that reason, we want to make sure that students understand the difference between Wikipedia and other sources.
In this video, educator Renee Swensen Nimtz will tell you exactly why you can't use Wikipedia as a source in academic papers:
Why does Wikipedia get such a bad wrap from teachers? Why can’t we use Wikipedia in our writing?
Lots of students have been told not to use Wikipedia because it is not reputable, anyone can alter a given wiki page, etc. But is that really the reason why we shouldn’t use Wikipedia? Trust? We don’t trust the information? We don’t trust the people who post the information?
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that presents information from consensus. This is a phenomenal concept, so typical of the way we think about the world today, that’s is, inclusive: YouTube, allows you to perform your own show, even have your own channel; Facebook, allows you to publish “news” about you. Wikipedia joins this social revolution and allows you to join the conversation and create knowledge. Isn’t that the real purpose of writing in academics? To join an academic conversation? Or is it just an assignment for a class? Well, yes. Yes to both. It is an assignment and you feel the pressure to get the work done for a grade. But the purpose of the assignment is to grow you as a scholar. To have you converse like academics do about academic “stuff” if you will.
Wikipedia is not really the problem. Academic writing requires that we look at primary or secondary sources, that is studies or an author’s write up about a study. These are typically presented in academic journals.
Wikipedia is an overview of information; it’s general and written for the general public. Even if you were to use a print Encyclopedia, you would still not be approaching your writing from an academic’s perspective.
In your papers you are to show that you know who the experts are and you’ve gone to those experts to help back up our ideas or claims. That authority, or ethos is important to illustrate. When you go to scholars to see what they have said and include this in your paper, you add ethos.
Think of your paper like this: You are the Master of Ceremonies or the MC. When you have the mic and pass it to someone new, you introduce the speaker and usually why we are hearing from that other person. So in your paper, you want to use language such as “according to Dr. James Keller, Professor of Psychology…” to introduce the scholar and add ethos.
So the reason we don’t use Wikipedia is not really because the information can change and the information is somehow unreliable, but Wikipedia is general information and simply not the type of sources required in academics.
“When I first started out in my Associate degree program, I had no idea what plagiarism was. There was a fine line between saying what was someone else’s work and wording that information into your own words. I just did not get it and I was told that I was plagiarizing a paper. I could not understand because I only used three or four words from where I had seen the information written before. I reworded the paper to what I understood, but by even using three or four words from someone else’s work is considered plagiarism. I had to learn the hard way and by learning the hard way, my class was given a zero. That right there woke me up and got me into reading and looking at programs to help me.
WriteCheck by Turnitin helped me to see where my mistakes where. It was like a light bulb came on and I had an epiphany, and I knew how to read a paragraph or statement and not use any of the author’s work or his words or their words, but use my own and have my own identity in my writing.
Now I really understand the value of somebody’s work. I understand when students say, ‘I’m crunched and I don’t have time and I have to cook and I have to pay bills and I’ve got to get off work and I’ve got to do a paper and they want to take shortcuts. We’ve all been there but it’s just not worth it in the end.
Everything I do comes through this website and the amount of money that I pay for a paper to be reviewed is priceless. It is worth every penny, especially when I come out and I am on the Deans List and Honor Society. I was not on the Honors Society until I started using this website and throughout my Bachelor’s program, I have remained on academic honors the complete time.
I trust it. I trust the whole system. Since the grammatical component has been added….let's just say that in my Masters program and probably into my PhD, I will be using WriteCheck.”
What is the second biggest writing mistake that students make when writing an essay? Educator Summer Dittmer says punctuation! In this video, Ms. Dittmer reviews the difference between colons and semicolons.
About the Writing No-No video series: Ms. Dittmer created a series of videos based on her experiences in helping students and adults learn how to improve their writing skills. These videos provide quick yet valuable lessons on what NOT to do when writing an academic paper.
The #2 Writing No-No is incorrect punctuation. In this video, I will specifically address the semicolon. So what, exactly is a semicolon? Let’s talk specifically about the semicolon.
A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses. Have I already lost you? Don’t fret- independent clauses are also known as complete sentences; because they are independent- they can stand alone. Many writers use semicolons instead of conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet). Keep in mind, writers use them because the ideas that they are connecting are closely related, therefore they flow well.
Sarah loves to read and books are her best friends.
Sarah loves to read; books are her best friends.
I always tell my students that when they use a semicolon between two independent clauses, then those independent clauses must be given equal position or even an equal right. Neither is more important than the other; it just helps the flow. Let’s look at an example:
Johnny got an A in math; he is a human calculator.
See how it helps the flow of two related ideas with equal value. You would never write:
Johnny got an A in math; he just purchased a washing machine.
Let’s also take a quick look at where students go wrong. The most common error is using a semicolon where a colon should be used. Colons are used to introduce something to the reader or to join two things of unequal weight. The independent clause can be followed by a dependent clause (also known as a fragment). This brings me to the second most common misuse of a semicolon-students use it with one independent clause and one dependent clause, as shown in this example.
Example: Rashad tasted the lemonade; too bitter. INCORRECT
Rashad tasted the lemonade: too bitter. CORRECT!
There were three types of ice cream; chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. INCORRECT
There were three types of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. CORRECT
Here’s a helpful hint: if you can’t remember which one to use, a colon or a semicolon, keep in mind, the SEmicolon connects two complete SEntences; they both begin with SE.
Thanks for listening, and good luck with your writing! Stay tuned for my next Writing No-No.
What are the biggest writing mistakes that students make? Educator Summer Dittmer has put together a series of videos, based on her experiences in helping students and adults learn how to improve their writing skills. These videos provide quick yet valuable lessons on what NOT to do when writing an academic paper.
First up: never use 1st or 2nd person.
Watch the video (2:29):
Or read along:
The #1 Writing No-No is to never use 1st or 2nd person.
Why? In academic writing, it’s important to avoid personal bias. Using “I” or “we” makes the essay about you and your experiences, instead of research and concrete details.
Before I give examples, let’s review the 1st person. 1st person uses I or We, as in “I am upset” and “We ran away.” Also stay away from using me, us, my, mine or ours.
Let’s also take a quick look at 2nd person. Second person uses you and your. When you use 2nd person point of view, you are directly addressing the reader, kind of like I am doing right now. While this is okay when writing a personal letter, it is not okay in formal writing, especially essays or research papers. Avoid using this pronoun at all costs because you never want to communicate directly with the reader.
Students often ask, “How can I use a hypothetical question as a hook to begin my essay if I can’t even use YOU?” My answer is simple: you never want to use a hypothetical question in an essay either. An academic…aka YOU, who uses 2nd person, has not only written too informally, but he or she has also missed the target audience. YOU indicates that you’re writing for the teacher only, but in an analysis or even just a book report, the student is writing for a broad audience.
My basic rule is this: First is the Worst...Second’s not the Best...Third is the Way You Can Pass the Test.
Let’s apply this rule to a few examples:
Instead of “I cannot believe how much tuition has increased,” try, “Tuition has drastically increased.”
Instead of “Don’t text while you drive,” try, “Don’t text and drive.”
Students are so used to using I, my, we, you and your, that they have a hard time weeding them out of their papers. So, here is my tip of the day: Every writing program, like Microsoft Word, has a search function. Do a simple word search for each of the ones listed here [show visual of word list]. Once you see them, shift your point of view.
Thanks for listening, and good luck with your writing! Stay tuned for my next Writing No-No.
Brought to you by WriteCheck, plagiarism checker software. www.writecheck.com
Is Google really the best way to research a paper topic? Most of the time, probably not because it may be difficult to get results to an accurate and manageable list. After all, your time is valuable! Watch this virtual classroom-style video by English Professor, Renee Bangerter, to learn how to:
Research a paper topic without even going to the library
Hone in on sources that give you the information that you really need
Narrow down your topic to something worth writing about
Read along (transcript):
Where is the first place you go to do research for an assignment? Google? Why do students usually choose Google as their firs stop shop for research? Some say because it “has the most information on their topic” or “It’s easy,” “convenient!”
But I’m going to ask, “is that really what you want?
Let’s take a look at a Google search for global warming: 84,400,000 hits. Do you have time to search through that many? I don’t.
There is a way to research your topic with the same ease and convenience as Google but with more manageable hits.
Your school library has invested in a collection of online materials. You don’t even have to physically go to the library.
Here’s how it works. Libraries purchase databases, or collections of articles for their students to access. Some popular databases are “EBSCOhost” and “ProQuest”. You search these databases the same way you would a Google search, with key words.
Let’s use “global warming” in an EBSCOhost search. Now we have only 128, 423 hits. Still not very manageable.
How can I make this number more workable? I need to reevaluate how I am searching.
I want to talk for a minute about the type of source you are really looking for: typically students want periodicals, journal articles by experts in the field of study they are researching.
What’s a periodical? There is a clue in its name…it is published periodically. What kind of texts do you know about are published periodically rather than once like a book? Newspapers and magazines are periodicals. Journals are also periodicals. They are articles about topics but written by experts.
When these experts write for journals, they have to be peer reviewed, but what does that mean? Other scholars check to make sure the article is accurate, interesting, well-written, etc.
We can actually check a box that will limit our search to Peer Reviewed articles, so I’ll get the best scholarly articles in my search right off the bat.
How many hits do we get when we change our search to Peer Reviewed articles? Now we’re down to 27, 000.
However, while we’re checking boxes, let’s give ourselves a little bit of a reality check and see if we can’t make that 27,000 smaller. It’s not likely that you are going to go to the library to pull your sources, right? Not like I had to when I was researching, you know back before the internet existed. Let’s just go ahead and make it easy on yourself and check that you only want Full-text articles, those that you can access right online, the whole article ready to download or print.
One last thing we can do to narrow the types of sources we get. We can play with time a little by establishing that we want only recent articles on our search, say 2000 on. So now we’ve moved from 84 million random sources to 9,000. I don’t know. I’m still not convinced I have that kind of time. There’s got to be something we can do to make the work manageable.
The term “global warming” is actually too general, too broad for the paper I’m doing, an argument on an issue. The search itself can lead you down the wrong path.
My paper is supposed to be something I feel strongly about so I can argue a claim. Keeping my topic connected to global warming, but more about something that affects me everyday are reusable bags. You see, I have a problem, when I go to the store, I forget my reusable bags in my car. I end up going to the store and using bags when I don’t need to. How many of us do the same thing? How can we change consumer behavior, so we remember our reusable bags? And why would we even want to eliminate plastic bags in the first place? This can be my new search.
I can approach this topic from several different avenues, but let’s just take plastic bags as a search in the database just to compare the numbers to our global warming search.
There, we have 217 peer reviewed, recent, full-text articles. That is something I can write about and now something I can manage reading about as well.
Avid writer, Karen Wall, who is currently working on her doctorate degree at Argosy University, spoke to us recently about her encounters with plagiarism during her academic career, and how she avoids any chance of accidental plagiarism in her writing. The WriteCheck online plagiarism checker has proved to be so effective and easy to use that when she begins her teaching career, she plans to encourage her students to use it for their papers.
Listen (2:34 minutes):
WriteCheck: Could you tell me your full name, the institution where you’re studying, and any degrees you have or degrees that you’re working on.
Karen: My name is Karen Wall and I am currently in my doctoral program with Argosy University at the Inland Empire campus. The name of my degree is called and EDDCP, which is an educational doctorate in counseling psychology. Last summer I got my Masters in counseling psychology and right now I’m a marriage and family therapy intern, working on my hours for my licensure. I have an Associate’s Degree in pre-med studies from New Mexico Military Institute; a Bachelors of Science in biology from Texas Tech; a Bachelors, PD teaching degree in secondary science education from University of Hawaii; a BS in nursing from York College of Pennsylvania; and then the latest one was the Master’s from Argosy that I just got.
WriteCheck: When you started using WriteCheck, why did you feel that that was important?
Karen: Well, I’ve been doing APA (citation) since I was in nursing school. I had never heard about WriteCheck until the doctoral program in my advanced professional writing for dissertations. So when we were learning how to turn our papers in through Turnitin, I came across WriteCheck on the Turnitin website. A lot of what I write, even my original ideas or things I say end up sounding alike or the same as things that have been said decades before. It’s just the way I write. But I don’t want to get in trouble. So we were sitting in class one day and I said, well, let me give this a try, because I’m not going to open myself up to anything.
So I tried it on my first paper and then I saw what it did for me and I was like, wow, this great. So then I told my classmates. All six of the people in my class ended up getting WriteCheck and it saved them tons of work and tons of worry on their papers. I was really glad I could share that with them.
I like how I can just put it in there and in less than a minute, it’s giving me feedback on not only like if my stuff matched and what percentage of a match it is, but it also did the grammatical stuff, which is pretty cool. I’m good grammatically, but you never know. Somebody could always check again for you.
And another thing was it was – I think it’s pretty validating for me as a writer, because like I said, I write a lot, I love to write. For me to see where my paper comes up and what I’m seeing that is similar to other papers, most of my matches are just common words that you can’t change. So that’s pretty validating for me that I’m actually writing things originally and putting my thoughts down appropriately without plagiarizing or anything else that’s unethical in writing, and any matching content just has to do with basic grammar. So that puts my mind at ease.
WriteCheck: Were there any additional unforeseen benefits that you saw from using WriteCheck besides the grammar checker or was that kind of the big one?
Karen: Well, I know what my paper’s going to do before the instructor gets it, so I’m steps ahead of them. So by the time I turn it in to them online and it’s running through Turnitin, I’ve already done the checking on it, so I’m safe.
WriteCheck: There’s been a lot of retractions in the field of scholarly publishing and in particular, recently there have been a few articles out about medical research. What would you say if you could give a piece of advice to someone looking to publish in the medical field about the authenticity of their work and the importance of work originality?
Karen: Well, there are two sites to that. I am all for preventing plagiarism and preserving authenticity, because if you’re going to write, you have to use your own thoughts. Not only is it unethical, but it’s just not nice to use someone else’s ideas. That’s basically stealing. And I would really be afraid to know somebody was in my field who is a fake, who doesn’t have their own ideas and has to get their work from other people, because I’ve had that happen before. People have taken my ideas. I’ve loaned papers out and had people take my ideas, so I don’t loan my papers out anymore.
But then on the other side, as someone who writes and writes well and plans to write a lot, in some ways, all these rules that came out, there’s some of the creativity has gotten lost now because people are actually afraid to write. They’re afraid to write something that they think is an original idea and then it turns out, woops, they think I plagiarized. In fact, I had a classmate who had written a research paper for her job, all with original ideas, but the school said she plagiarized and she lost her job over it. She said she hadn’t, because she hadn’t even seen the original document they were referring to.
So there’s two sides to that coin. There’s positive and there’s negative, but you’ve got to take them both, because like I said, for those people who write and put the work into it, you don’t want somebody else taking our ideas and getting away with it. But then for those who write like us, that are original and want to put good stuff out there, to have to worry about, well shoot, if this is my idea and I submit it to somebody and they think I’m plagiarizing, then that looks bad on me.
So I would say anybody who’s doing any kind of writing, especially professional research, peer reviewed writing, you have to access to something that can check it for you. That way, even if I do find out, WriteCheck brings it up your results and I can see if that’s actually valid for me to change or not. For example, my statement here matched this person’s 10 years ago, but what it was, was the name of an organization. So I’m not worried anymore. So, I think that [WriteCheck] takes a lot of the weight off anybody who’s writing. Even the professional world, if you’re not in school, something like this helps put your mind at ease that what you are writing is actually original, or what you are writing – you may have forgotten that it was something you heard somewhere. So I think it’s a good tool to take away some of that stress and to really give credit to the people that have done the work. So I would say anybody professional writing, use something like this.
Karen: And it’s easy to use.
WriteCheck: Well, that was my next question. Are you – now I know that you’re completing your doctorate now – would you plan on using WriteCheck at all in the future?
Karen: Oh, good lord, yes. I’m a permanent member.
WriteCheck: We are glad to hear that.
Karen: See, one of my plans with my doctorate is, especially since it is in education, I plan to teach at the University level and this is going to be one of those things, when I do a syllabus, it’s going to be on there that you’re going to be required to have WriteCheck. I’m going to require that, because I don’t want to see my students getting in trouble when somebody, who’s supposed to be mentoring them, knew about something that could make their life easier, I’m not going to have them getting in trouble for what they write. And I’ll tell them, it’s a tax write-off. It’s a business expense, go ahead, get it, it’s worth it. It’s worth doing that, spending a little to do this, than losing your license or losing your career over it. So, yeah, I plan to use it for a very long time. As long as you’re around.
WriteCheck: Well, it sounds like it’s been very helpful, so we're glad to hear that.
Podcast featuring:Denise Barnes
Undergrad student at Kilgore College, Texas
Working on a Psychology Degree
Listen to Denise’s story (1:39 minutes):
Read along with the video:
"My name is Denise Barnes. I am a freshman at Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas. I am working on my Psychology degree. I graduated high school in ’84. Other than getting my paramedic certification, this is my first time back in school. Of course, back then you typed everything. You had to find everything in the books and all that. And truthfully, as a high schooler, I didn’t understand plagiarism. I didn’t understand the importance of not plagiarizing.
On any paper that we write, we have to use Turnitin.com. Last semester when I was looking over the website, I found WriteCheck. I used it (WriteCheck) for one of my papers and ended up with a 97 on that paper. I have to credit a lot of it to WriteCheck because it caught some of my errors – forgetting to use notations, passive phrases and stuff like that I’m still learning to catch.
Even if it’s accidental on your part, your instructor or the institution might not realize or see that it’s actually accidental. It’s better just to be safe than sorry. It’s better to go ahead and check, make sure you’re not plagiarizing, than to just go with it and then get caught and have your whole college career go down the drain.
This semester, when we start writing again, I will get every paper checked. I will be taking English Lit and Psychology classes. So, on anything that I write, I will be using WriteCheck."