Misusing sources

Since the principle of academic integrity is to truthfully present information about sources, it becomes a problem if sources are misrepresented or misused. Misusing sources can involve:

  • passing off a source's ideas as your own
  • attributing an idea to the wrong source
  • fabricating a source or data.

Passing off a source's ideas as your own can happen when you heavily rely on a single source. For example, consider the following scenario:

Simon is writing an essay and has found an excellent journal article by an author named Ann Murphy. Simon loves the article because he strongly agrees with its ideas, and it is very relevant to the essay question. He also likes it because Murphy quotes a lot of other authors like Sontag and Butler. Simon plans to use these quotes in his essay. Simon does not search for any sources by Sontag or Butler, and he does not use any other sources in his essay. One of the essay's marking criteria is "wide and critical reading". Below is an extract from Simon's essay.

The idea of control over bodies is prominent in current philosophy about the body and materiality. Sontag's work Illness as Metaphor argues that metaphors of illness "over-mobilize, overdescribe, and [stigmatize] the ill" (Sontag 1978, p. 182). Similarly, Judith Butler argues that bodies can be understood as "the repeated and violent circumscription of cultural intelligibility" (Butler 1993, p. 11). As Murphy (2016, p. 6) writes, bodies are treated violently and as objects within current philosophical discourse.

The problem with this example is that it sounds as though Simon has read Sontag, Butler and Murphy's works, but in fact he hasn't. He has only read Murphy, who quotes Sontag and Butler. This is a case of passing off Murphy's work as his own, since he did not do the work of finding and analysing Sontag and Butler. Also, it is a case of attributing the idea to the wrong source. Although the quotations are from Sontag and Butler, Simon should tell the reader that he found them in Murphy. This is called citing a secondary source.

Here is an improved version:

The idea of control over bodies is prominent in current philosophy about the body and materiality. As Murphy (2016, p. 6) writes, bodies are treated violently and as objects within current philosophical discourse. Murphy bases her argument on Sontag's work Illness as Metaphor, where Sontag argues that metaphors of illness "over-mobilize, overdescribe, and [stigmatize] the ill" (Sontag, cited in Murphy 2016, p. 6). Murphy also reiterates Judith Butler's argument that bodies can be understood as "the repeated and violent circumscription of cultural intelligibility" (Butler, qtd. in Murphy 2016, p. 8).

This example makes it clearer that all the ideas are taken from Murphy. However, it is still a problem that Simon's essay relies too heavily on Murphy. Instead, it would be better for Simon to use diverse sources. It is a good rule of thumb to refer to multiple sources in each paragraph in order to show wide reading.

To learn more about using sources in your writing, check out our resources on academic writing.

Fabricating sources

Fabricating sources occurs when someone makes up a source of information that is not real. To learn about conducting research and finding relevant sources, check out our resources on time management, academic writing, analysing questions and evaluating sources.

References 

Murphy, A 2016. Founding Foreclosures: Violence and Rhetorical Ownership in Philosophical Discourse on the Body. Sophia, vol. 55, pp. 5-14. Doi: 0.1007/s11841-016-0521-5