Copying, Linking, Attributions, and Plagiarism
I have two related questions that I would like to see some discussion on:
Do we need to improve our Help Center’s text to remind people that they have to cite their sources by name?
UPDATE: I’m marking this first question completed as of 2014-07-08 04:38:38 ᴜᴛᴄ.
What should we do about postings that lack proper attribution?
- Leave a comment.
- Edit in the attribution if known.
- Delete the posting.
- Flag the posting. (and if so, as what?)
- Add a blue moderator note.
- Something else.
Edit: Apparently, ours is not the only site with these problems. Most of the issue mentioned there apply here, notably including this quote from that posting of Shoggoth’s:
Do not tolerate answers consisting primarily of text copied from other sources
[. . .]
We require that answers consist primarily of the words of their author, and that all quotes be clearly marked as such and attributed to their respective authors.
A bare link next to verbatim, copied-in text is not “attributed”, and answers that are just text copied from elsewhere provide no words from that author. If you read his posting referenced above, there are specific steps given as guidance.
In our Help Center’s section on “How to reference material written by others”, it reads in part:
When you find a useful resource that can help answer a question (from another site or in an answer on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange) make sure you do all of the following:
- Provide a link to the original page or answer
- Quote only the relevant portion
- Provide the name of the original author
According to Ernest Hemingway - Biographical on Nobelprize.org, Hemingway saw combat when he was a teenager. It says:
After the United States entered the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. Serving at the front, he was wounded, was decorated by the Italian Government, and spent considerable time in hospitals ....
[other sources, quotes, explanations, etc. necessary to complete the answer]
However, this is not happening. I believe that it should be happening, and I would like for the community to decide how to approach missing attributions.
This omission is especially noticeable in answers to questions tagged single-word-requests, where the answerer will copy in a dictionary definition without saying where they got the definition from. However, it occurs throughout our site.
Sometimes a link is given, and sometimes it is not. Now in some cases, one cannot provide a link because the source is from a printed book. In those cases, posters are a bit better with supplying the name of the work they are quoting.
However, in the case of links, posters are very bad at this. In some cases, it’s so bad that their would-be answer is nothing but a word that’s hyperlinked to some online resource. Link-only answers aren’t real answers.
But even when there is more, actual text copied out, a link by itself is not an attribution. It does not include in plain text the name of the work linked to. This is burdensome; how can one judge the authority of the cited source if there is no source given for the citation? There is a world of difference between:
- Citing formally curated resources like the OED, the American Heritage Dictionary, or even CGEL.
- Citing crowd-sourced resources like Wikipedia, Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary, Etymonline, or Urban Dictionary.
- Citing John Q. Public’s random private web page.
Even within each of those three types, there is obviously a hierarchy of “trustworthiness”, but if the source is not named, readers of the posting will not be aware of which one it is.
I would like to see the source named so that we can tell how good of a source it is. I believe that all citations, link or no link, need to provide the actual name of where the text has been copied from. That is what our Help Center says, but people are not doing it.
You should not have to punch through a link to find out how trustworthy the citation is, or even where it has come from. Telling people to “hover” won’t work not just because it is an undue burden, but also because it does not work on the mobile interface to SE.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Examples Galore
Edit: Some of the examples listed below as being in one of three buckets seem to have gotten unwittingly tossed into the wrong bucket. In particular, some posts were erroneously tossed in the “Ugly” bucket and do not deserve to be there. My apologies.
Here are examples of good, bad, and completely absent attributions:
The Bad: examples of links missing attributions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41.