3 Tutorials that teach Accuracy and Using Sources
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Accuracy and Using Sources

Accuracy and Using Sources

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson discusses the importance of being accurate with your use of sources.

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Source: Kross, Verduyn et. al. “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults.” PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. dol: 10.1371/journal/pone.0069841. 2013.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? Today we'll be talking about how to make sure the use we put our sources to is accurate and ethical. First we'll talk about ways to go about doing this, and why it's important to treat sources well, and then we'll see an example of an unethical use of a source.

Accuracy when dealing with sources is very important. And the thing is, this goes for both recording of a source's bibliographic data and for the use of the source's ideas, words, and points. Part of the reason academic essays are generally required to include a bibliography is so that the readers can check the writer's work if they so choose. So long as the writer has accurately recorded the source's author, title, publication information, and any umbrella source for print articles, or URL for websites, and page or paragraph numbers for quoted or summarized material, that door is open to them.

When using sources, there's several ways writers can violate the ethical assumptions that academic writers and researchers are expected to hold themselves to. It's unethical to misrepresent the source's bibliographic data, as doing so violates the reader's trust. Remember that part of the reason writers include this data is invite the reader into the broader conversation, so to misrepresent that information is to give readers a false invitation.

It's also unethical to use a quote that's out of context, or that misconstrues the source's intention, or to mischaracterize the source's ideas, research, or points. And if a writer fails to use quotation marks around quoted material, or fails to properly cite the source being quoted from, these constitute unintentional plagiarism. So when using part of a quotation, or removing sections from a quotation, it's important to make sure the resulting quote is still an accurate representation of the writer's words and work. And, of course, it's unethical to present someone else's ideas or words as if they are your own. This constitutes intentional plagiarism.

That being said, it can sometimes be difficult to fully and accurately explain something as complicated as an academic source, it's ideas, research, and points-- especially when also trying to present your own ideas, research, and points. And it can sometimes be tempting to alter or oversimplify someone else's ideas, research, or points, or to make them align better with your own. But nonetheless, it's very important to be accurate when representing another writer's work. It's part of every writer's responsibility to do everything in their power to ensure that the sources they use are used ethically and accurately.

Now let's look at a hypothetical situation. Let's say we were assigned an essay on the effects of social media, and our thesis is that social media sites like Facebook are useful not only for networking long distance, but for helping people, especially young people, learn to socialize. Essentially, we're arguing against those who say Facebook and other social media sites spell the doom of having real friends. Now let's say that while conducting research, you stumble across an article written by some sociologists who studied the effects of Facebook use on young adults.

Here's the abstract of their article. "Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being; how people feel moment-to-moment, and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our result indicates that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them. The more they used Facebook over two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people 'directly' did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people's Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it."

Now as you can see, this article doesn't seem to be in line with our thesis, but it's so close to our topic and it's the first peer-reviewed source we've found. And our professor's required us to use at least four academic sources, so we really, really want to use it, let's say. So if we were to just, say, tweak our reading of this text, then maybe we could make it seem like it agrees with us.

What if we cited the article, and then summarised it by saying that there was no connection between Facebook use and unhappiness? That would be inaccurate, unethical, and wrong. Or what if we just took a quote? That couldn't be bad, right? What if, after reading this entire abstract and going through the rest of the article, looking at all their research and all the data they collected about how Facebook use predicts unhappiness in young adults, we just took this quote. "Whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. "

Would that be wrong? Technically, they said that, but if we were to quote it in the absence of everything else in the article and present it as essentially the effect of their research, that would be inaccurate and unethical. The important thing to do when using the source is ask yourself if the writer were here and saw what I was doing, what would he, she, or they think?

What did we learn today? We learned about using sources accurately and ethically. Then we looked at a hypothetical misuse of a source. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.