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!