Technically, language is held in common; no one person owns language or has the power to hold onto words like possessions. It is when individuals make unique creations with words – generate particularly apt phrases, coin terms, or construct arguments and develop insights – that we can say they have some claim to those particular ideas. They become “intellectual property.”
Citation is an acknowledgement of these interesting formulations of language and ideas, as well as of the intellectual effort and ability that they represent. The history or “etymology” of the term “plagiarism” relates its use to the act of kidnapping or stealing property, which implicates plagiarism in a debate over what can and cannot be said to be “intellectual property.”
Copyright is another concept closely related to citation and intellectual property. When individuals create unique works, we can say that they have claim to these works and these become “copyright protected”. For more information about copyright, see Copyright @ York.
As the term “originality” is often used in association with intellectual property, students sometimes gain the impression that the demand on them is to contribute something completely new and utterly unique to academic discussions. This is not the case.
In fact, many of the thinkers to whom we attribute major ideas today – Charles Darwin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Marie Curie, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein – built the revolutionary ideas for which they have become famous upon the ideas of other thinkers.
You are not expected to research, write, and contribute original ideas at the same level as advanced scholars and professional academics. Learning, and by extension, your university education, is a process where writers gain writing skills over time, building on accumulated knowledge to create strong, well-articulated arguments. Throughout this process, writers cite the sources they use to formulate their own ideas.
In the context of academic research, the term “original” is used to describe work that adds to existing knowledge by expanding, deepening, reconsidering, and testing it. However, the origins of this existing knowledge must be acknowledged through appropriate citation practices.
Your bibliography should list only the sources you have consulted in your research. Although when time is short you may be tempted to make it appear that you have done more research than you actually have, misrepresenting the number of sources consulted breaches academic integrity codes for three reasons:
- such practices represent attempts to obtain grades by avoiding required work and, as such, are forms of cheating
- such practices could lead you to misattribute and misrepresent source material and are thus irresponsible research practices
- such practices constitute a form of falsification and fabrication