Online sources primarily include Internet Web pages, electronic books, and full-text journal
articles (usually available from library databases).
Any material you use in a paper from an online source, including information
from the Web, should be acknowledged just as it would be if it came from a
traditional print publication. Being in the electronic environment does not
change the rules.
Whether or not something is copyrighted has no bearing
on your obligation to acknowledge your sources. But as a point in fact most
information available over the Internet is protected by copyright since the
law assumes most material published in a fixed media is eligible for
Cutting and pasting information from online sources into your paper can make
it particularly vulnerable to plagiarism. Because it is so easy to drop something into your paper it
creates a temptation to be dishonest. Resist. If the notions of honor and
learning don’t deter you then you might bear in mind that what is easy for
you to include is just as easy for your professor to find.
Taking notes by cutting and pasting from an online source requires careful
documentation to avoid losing the information you need to properly
acknowledge your source (see also Note taking
and Citing Online Sources). It is also
difficult to tell where you have copied information exactly when it is
inserted directly into a document containing your own original text unless
you use some sort of highlighting or other method to identify copied
material. The bottom-line is that it is very easy for accidental and
careless plagiarism to creep into papers when cut and paste notes are used.
Cutting and pasting is also the common cause of
‘Frankenstein’ papers where
copied text is sewn together with little bits of original connecting prose.
With proper attribution, these hybrid papers can avoid accusations of
plagiarism. However, they usually receive low grades since it is difficult
to create a cohesive, well-thought-out paper from bits and pieces of other
people’s words. Good writing
practice recommends reading the source material, then
‘closing the book’
and writing notes in your own words to ensure you have understood the
material and have begun the process of creating an original paper. Cut and
paste can short circuit this process.
A problem unique to the Internet is
that Web page sources may
change over time. A Web page used as a source for your paper may move or
cease to exist. Your professor may not be able to find it to confirm your
research. Information on a Web page may also be deleted or changed affecting
the conclusions you drew from it in your paper or passages you have quoted. You
have several options to protect your research in this unpredictable
- include the date you visited the Web page as part of your citation,
- make a copy of pages from which you have quoted or used
- locate the original version of the site you used. Several search
engines can help you track down an older version of a Web site. Google’s
cached link, included with each listing, has a snapshot of the site from the date
it was last
crawled. The Wayback Machine,
http://web.archive.org/collections/web.html, is a more complete
archive of older versions of web sites. However, you need to know the URL
of the site you are looking for so it is still important to document your
sources in the first place.