The Importance of Proper Source Use

Why does proper source use matter to an academic community?

Expert perspective: Megan Sweeney, Arthur F. Thurnau Associate Professor of English and Former Director of the English Department Writing Program

Expand to view transcript of video

We think better when we’re in dialogue or conversation with others,
and that’s really
essential for a learning community.
When you’re trying to figure out how your ideas relate to somebody
else’s ideas, it
enables you to understand those ideas better, and it also enables you
to deepen and sharpen
your own thinking.
So, we need to show to our readers that we very carefully considered
what other people
have written and said and thought about in relation to our topic.
So, with plagiarism, I think sometimes students want to hide that they
have read other’s work,
or engaged with other’s work. But again, that’s the heart of academic
The problem is if you don’t give credit to the people whose ideas and
thoughts have influenced
your own, and that’s where plagiarism comes in.
Because plagiarism is just a recycling of what’s already been thought
and said. It’s
not adding to knowledge. So in a way, it’s impoverishing knowledge
Because again, the way that we advance knowledge is by grappling
carefully with what other
people have said. So we’re questioning, we’re complicating, we’re
comparing new things.
We’re bringing different ideas into conversation with what somebody
else has said,
and that’s how we develop new insights and new ways of thinking.
It feels really devastating, as a teacher, to learn that a student has
There’s a real mix of emotions that often come flooding in at the same
An initial reaction, on the part of the teacher, is often a question of,
“How did I fail this
student? How did I fail to give adequate guidance and support so that
the student could successfully
complete this paper?”
And alongside with that emotion, there’s often a feeling, at the same
time, of being hurt
or betrayed.
“Why would this student choose to be dishonest with me or try to fool
me rather than asking
for my help?
I’ve tried to make myself available and tried to emphasize all the
resources that are available
for students: from me, to the Sweetland Center for Writing to other
students in the class,
other instructors, and so it can feel sort of hurtful that a student is
making a dishonest
choice in the face of everything that we’re trying to give as teachers.

Key Takeaways:

  • Engaging with others’ ideas helps us develop and extend our own
  • Your teachers are available to you; instead of trying to fool them, use them as resources

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