Starting French Tutorial 2
Evaluating Web Resources, Giving Clear References, and Avoiding Plagiarism
Evaluating Web Sites
You can be confident that the sites listed on the Library's web pages will contain quality content. Either they are reputable information sources that we pay to access, or the free links have been specially selected for inclusion. Evaluating sites on the free web may be a very different thing.
Selecting a site
Even precise searches in Google retrieve so many hits that they are a poor way of finding a range of quality resources on a particular topic. Always select for Google Scholar for preference, but you will soon discover how ambiguous words or names can be! If you are looking for a specific site or very particular piece of information Google can find it more or less instantly. It won't give you an overview, however, of which sites might be valuable to answer a particular question or give you further guidance.
For an overview of quality sites you are better off using a portal of pre-selected sites, such as Voice of the Shuttle: French or the French Studies Web site giving detailed references, with links to other sites within a particular topic.
Is this site worth using?
Some sites count against themselves because of their poor design, style or academic level: if they are short on original content, don't link with other reputable sources, or haven't been updated for a year or more they are not worth considering. Other sites may be more difficult to assess. This makes it important to find out who put a website online and why. That will provide an indication of a site's likely quality, permanence and value as an academic resource. Is it from a university, a scholarly society or pressure group? Is it reliable? Is it biassed? And if so, how? How might you tell? You can learn a lot about a site from the end of its domain name (the last part of its URL). Some common suffixes are:
for British educational institutions and universities
for US educational institutions and universities
for businesses or commercial enterprises
for non-commercial organisations
for UK or US government agencies
for international organisations
for use by individuals
Clearly a free commercial site will be online for different reasons and with different aims from an academic or government one, though some may be useful, i.e. a site produced by a publisher.
What else to look for in a site?
Look for any links which say 'About Us', 'Philosophy', 'Background', 'Biography'. Look for the date 'last updated' - usually at the bottom of a web page. Look for the name of an author, or name of an organisation, institution or agency that claims responsibility for the site. Look for 'links’, ‘additional sites', 'related links' to see how the site situates itself and what it is aware of beyond itself. In the text on the page, look to see if there are any footnotes or links that refer to documentation. Do they seem reputable and scholarly or do they link mainly to personal websites and blogs?
How to Cite Your References
When working on an essay it's important to cite your sources of information: every distinctive idea and every quotation you include taken from a book, essay or article must be clearly acknowledged. This helps you and your reader (or marker!) in three main ways:
- it enables you to keep track of what you've read, and how your< ideas and opinions have developed through your reading
- it makes the process of checking facts, details, quotations etc much easier as you redraft your work
- it enables your reader to find and if necessary check the information you've used to write your essay
Other reasons why the discipline of citation and reference-taking is essential:
- it lets you demonstrate the breadth of your reading when preparing an essay
- it allows you to avoid any accusation of plagiarism, ie < an unacknowledged use of someone else's ideas
- your Department will require a full bibliography at the end of any assessed work in an approved style (see link below).
Citation? References?? Bibliography???
The terminology can be a bit confusing. Not everyone uses these words in quite the same way, but usually we can distinguish these terms in the following way: A citation (sometimes also called a footnote or an EndNote) is a reference you make in your text to another source of information. Your references are a list of the sources you have made some use of in your essay, and which go to make up the bibliography, which you put at the end of your work. Your bibliography could, in theory, contain works you have consulted in the field even though you don't mention them or make any use of them, but in practice it will list those items you quote from, paraphrase, or mention in the course of your essay. Citations, references and bibliographies must be formatted as clearly and consistently as possible; this will ensure that they can be understood correctly by your reader. There are different styles for the formatting of bibliographic information. For detailed guidance, consult the French Department's Essay Writing Conventions webpage:
Be Careful to Avoid Plagiarism
Academic departments require you to become engaged with ideas, not just give an account of other people's arguments. There has to be a starting point for your own views, but you need to be very careful not to pass off other people's work as you own. It needs to be clear to the reader of your essay exactly when you are quoting, describing or paraphrasing the views of someone else, or when you are making your own comments and offering new ideas. Even when describing someone else's arguments in your own words, you need to cite details of where it is you read up these arguments. Never cut and paste from the internet directly into your essay, unless you are copying a quotation and can give the exact source as part of your references. Always keep a careful note of where a useful quotation came from - it can be maddening when you find you can't use something relevant because you have no source for it