Don’t Plagiarise it. Remix it!

Academics have been remixing since forever.

You cannot move forward without taking from what is already behind you.

Yet remixing is different from plagiarising.  Academics reference the work they’re using and explain how they reached the detail they’re presenting.

photo by Thomas Hawk

photo by Thomas Hawk

There is a common misconception amongst students that you shouldn’t reference too much, because it looks like you haven’t done any thinking yourself.  But the more you refer to, the broader your research has been. Your scope widens as you read more, leading to more citations.

A high number of references is a healthy sign.  Those references have to be relevant, mind!

As you bring all these works together, you are creating a brand new work.  Remix. Mashup. Collaborate. From all this comes your own unique work.  You rely on others to make your own mark.

Coursework is a continuation of other people’s work, full of quotations, and full of ideas.  Even a groundbreaking, brand new finding/viewpoint must interact with previous research.  And each interaction requires an explanation of where it came from.

Additionally, if you have an opinion and want to back it up, it’s acceptable to find similar arguments elsewhere.  I spoke to one student who said they kept having to change their conclusions because they were the same as someone else’s view.  But there’s no harm in holding a similar view.  It’s just as natural to agree with others as it is to disagree with them.  Agreements in academia are helpful, because it’s material to back up your arguments.  It would be more difficult to back something up if everyone else disagreed with you!

Look at enough journal articles and you’ll start to see exactly how much academics manage to reference throughout their writing.  They don’t leave references out through fear of looking unoriginal.  When they discuss what has gone before and refer to previous findings, they are still creating a brand new work.

Your essays aren’t always unique research projects or a demonstration of new findings.  You may simply be discussing the merits of a statement or exploring a particular concept.  In doing so, your job is to cover as much ground as possible through primary resources and secondary material.  Should you find opinions that go against what you want to argue, bring that up too.  Explain why you don’t agree and back up with even more references on top of your own findings.

Next time you see an academic paper where the bibliography takes up the same number of pages as the article itself, hopefully you’ll understand why this happens!

It’s bad to plagiarise.  It’s great to remix!

5 comments

  1. Excellent post! I am forever saying to students~ Make it yours!

    Re-writing another’s material increases one’s academic vocab, understanding of concepts, understanding of how to communicate interesting points, and understanding what to include in a lit review or method or discussion section.

    Science builds on previous knowledge; it would be great if more academics focused on communicating this to students rather than encouraging them to compete with each other for grades.

    Like learning to draw, paint, dance or play music etc, first one follows, then one can fly…

  2. Awesome post! I love your point about mashups – synthesizing some new argument from the conflicts or agreements between different is a great way to get a different perspective on a problem.

    I think that outlining as you read a source text is a really good habit to get in to which can support this so you’re working with the DNA of an argument, not simply lifting whole paragraphs.

    Weirdly I’ve just posted on similar lines, would be great to get your thoughts… http://unformation.net/2010/09/a-better-way-to-read/

    Ben

  3. @Char, abolutely! How time consuming and difficult would it be if everyone had to start from scratch every time they wanted to learn something new?

    @Ben, I agree with you that outlining as you go along is a good move. Easier, saves time, makes sense, allows you to engage with many texts, makes referencing a breeze, and much more.

    @Farouk, many thanks!

  4. I normally limit the amount references used in my work, but I guess I am also limiting the amount of research done on the subject.

    Great Advice!!

    Thanks

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