You might not guess this from the way I dress, but I am not a bad cook

Note: In general, students are not prepared to do high quality work when they come to us, and for many different kinds of reasons. The issue of documentation is particularly difficult for them to understand, for some reason. On one hand they have been warned about plagiarism, but the lesson they take from that is that they must do original work, which is ridiculous. Here I attempt to get them to understand the nature of scholarship, and then offer some formal tools for carrying it out.

Some Remarks on Documentation

Lee Gass

You might not guess this from the way I dress, but I am not a bad cook. On occasion I have been accused of being a great cook. But I don't know what to answer when people ask me if I started "from scratch". What does that mean, anyway? Do I claim credit for everything, or do I have to acknowledge the grocer, the farmer, and the hen when I make an omelette? Cooks usually claim all the credit, possibly because hens can't complain about being slighted, although they often brag about using "the finest of ingredients". Writers also use materials from other sources, but they can't get away with not acknowledging them.

The important point so far is that there are at least 3 kinds of credit in cooking. First, and most important from the cook's point of view, is that the cook made the omelette, not the hen or anyone else. Hens make eggs, not omelettes. Second, the omelette could never have been made without the hen. Third, no matter how creative the cook or how fantastic the omelette, the cook didn't invent omelettes. More than likely, a recipe, a mentor, or an inspiring example opened the cook's mind to omelettes in general and even to particular innovations. But the cook brought together the finest of ingredients and the finest of ideas about eggs (both of which originated somewhere else) to make a masterpiece, and the cook deserves credit for this.

So in writing your paper, don't forget that it is your own paper. You asked the questions that led to the research that led to the paper. You structured your time and effort, organized the materials, and created a plan for presenting your findings. This is you, and you can be proud of it. But also don't forget that you used other people's work in creating your paper.

Face it. All scholars are thieves. It is their job; that is what scholarship is all about. Scholars construct new combinations of old things, and a great deal of creativity is involved in doing that. Scholars also acknowledge their sources of facts, of ideas, and of points of view. Your paper will be a unique combination of other people's ideas, organized around and cemented togther by your own thinking. It is incredibly important for you to realize that you will use other people's ideas, that this is O.K. and expected, and that you must acknowledge all work that you use. You must give credit to ALL of your sources of information.

In most science writing no footnotes are used, and we rarely quote whole passages directly. Rather, we use a simple system in which the source is cited in parentheses right in the text. Then at the end of the paper on a special "LITERATURE CITED" page, all of the sources cited in the text are listed alphabetically by author in a special format. The literature cited page is not a list of everything that you read in your research - - only of those things you specifically cited in your text. A person reading your paper should be able to pursue any of the ideas you discuss by reading the sources you cite.

Text Citations

Ideally, you will use material from several different sources in many paragraphs (even sentences), and you must document each of them. Sometimes, one fact or idea comes from more than one source. Sometimes you must supply different facts or ideas to support a point of your own. Sometimes you must compare material from different sources, for example to show how they contradict. In each case simply enclose the author's last name and the year of the publication in parentheses at an obvious place in your writing that doesn't break the flow. This can be at the end or even in the middle of sentences (e.g. "The traditional view has been that XYZ (Darwin 1859), but Ehrlich (1989) showed that PQR is much more common."). You can enclose more than one citation in the same parentheses, separated by semicolons (Anonymous 1989; Kieran 1989).

Of course, material that you obtain off the internet is no exception…a source is a source is a source. That means sighting the URL (i.e. the website address) of the source material in your ‘LITERATURE CITED’ list. Keep in mind that while it is trivial to download images off the net, and incorporate them into your own website, you must cite the source of the image.

Example: The Moon


Anonymous. 1989. Bakker was among PTL boozers. The Province. September 12:14. [This is an unsigned newspaper article].

Bird, T., Pololos, D. and Wang, T. 'Universe' Project entitled 'The Moon'

Caro, T. 1988. Why do tommies stott? Nat. Hist. 97(9):26-30. [This is an article in the magazine Natural History. Because Nat. Hist. begins each issue with page #1, you must include the issue # (9) to fully identify the source].

Darwin, C. 1859. The origin of species. Murray. London. [This is a book].

Hershey, A.E., and S.I. Dodson. 1987. Predator avoidance by Cricotopus: cyclomorphosis and the importance of being big and hairy. Ecology 68:913-920. [This is a 1987 article in volume 68 of the journal Ecology].

Hull, D.L. 1988. Science as a process. Univ. Chicago Press. Chicago.

Kieran, B. 1989. Redraw, says Zalm. The Province. September 12:6. (This is a signed newspaper article).

‘The Moon’ image was downloaded from:

These are the most common kinds of citations; if you have a special case, such as interview, a television program, etc., ask if it isn't obvious how to cite it.