Frequently Asked Questions:
Citing Sources and Plagiarism
In all BIO courses, the only written resources required for the course are your textbook and lab manual. What does this mean for you? It means that in the final analysis, you should have no reason to extensively cite anything! The best way to write the essays is to read the essay question, review the relevant sections in the class materials (e.g., textbook and/or lab manual), and then place the materials aside. Once the relevant sections in the book or lab manual have been reviewed and studied, they should be closed and the essay should be answered based on what has been learned. Note: This is the preferred method for writing the essays for the department.
We know that the topic of plagiarism generates a lot of anxiety and that students are often unclear about when they need to include citations (i.e. formal acknowledgement of using or borrowing from another’s work). This is especially true in the sciences, where so much of the information encountered is fact-based and impervious to interpretation. Students often indicate that it is challenging to describe scientific principles, definitions, conditions, and other such information their “own words.” After all, essay questions are based on material that has been previously characterized, defined, or described! Since this characterization is not yours to begin with, how CAN you explain it without plagiarizing or citing every single sentence?
Fear not! It CAN be done. Let’s use the following as an illustration. It is an essay question that is based on content presented in a BIO 105 lesson on Environmental Health and Toxicology:
What are endocrine disruptors? How do they work on pests? Why are they a problem for humans? Have they been banned? Why or why not?
In the example essay question above, one element that could potentially require a citation is the definition of “endocrine disruptor.” Ideally, the department would like to see students provide their own definitions of terms and processes, but we do realize that there are times when the technical nature of some definitions makes this very challenging. If you must include a definition from the text or lab material, it can be easily handled this way:
According to the course text, an endocrine disruptor is “a toxicant that interferes with the endocrine (hormone) system” (Withgott and Brennan, 2008). [APA citation style]
According to lab 12, endocrine disruptors are “chemicals that interfere with the endocrine (hormone) system, which in part, controls reproductive hormones” (online lab #10, n.d.). [Preferred citation style for labs]
At this point in the above illustration, you should close the textbook and answer the remaining questions in your own words. You should be able to answer the vast majority of essay questions without referring to the book. If you cannot, then you have not mastered the material. Essay questions are designed to assess comprehension. Instructors realize that many scientific terms, systems and processes are difficult to describe. They are not looking for artfully crafted descriptions as much as they are looking for genuine understanding. A sample definition of endocrine disruptors written in a student’s “own words” follows:
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that negatively affect the endocrine system. The endocrine system controls hormones, including reproductive hormones, which why endocrine disruptors are considered such an environmental hazard.
In this example, the student’s comprehension is demonstrated to a far greater degree than in the first and second cases, where a simple textbook/lab definition is all that is provided.
All essay-type work (including those found on the in-person exams) will be graded according to the department rubric that is posted in the announcements. It is expected that your writing will be done in...
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