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Online sources

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 copyright protection.

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 dont 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 peoples 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 environment.

  1. include the date you visited the Web page as part of your citation,
  2. make a copy of pages from which you have quoted or used significant information,
  3. locate the original version of the site you used. Several search engines can help you track down an older version of a Web site. Googles 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.
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Last updated 02/26/2004 by Sue Thompson
Cal State San Marcos Library