|This essay is under construction.|
News writers must use sources without plagiarizing them. This page is about how to do that.
This skill is vitally important because almost everything on the Internet is under copyright, even if it doesn't have an explicit copyright notice. Even most blogs are under copyright.
Plagiarism is presenting some else's work as your own (wikt:plagiarism). This means your writing has to be your own work: even in pure synthesis writing, you should be adding something of your own. The facts you use are from the sources, but you choose which facts to include, how to organize them, and the words, phrases, and sentence structures to express them. Craft a presentation based on your insight into the story. If you craft it well enough, when you're all done and double-check it for similarities to the sources, there will be little or nothing for your double-check to find.
We're going to illustrate how to do this with an example, with colored highlighting to show just how the synthesis relates to its sources. It can be difficult to imagine the sort of thing wanted until one has seen it from the inside, so we're giving you the chance to see it from the inside. Although the example is pure synthesis, even interviews —the most nearly pure form of original reporting— draw on sources for background, typically used in the introduction to the interview.
In later sections of the page, we'll explain some of the more important technical points — paraphrasing, citing sources, copyright conditions, and use of direct quotes (things between quotation marks).
We want to illustrate how synthesis in a Wikinews article relates to the sources. For simplicity, we'll assume pure synthesis based on just two sources. The synthesis text will be linked so you can click on any passage in the synthesis to see which source passages it comes from, and on any passage used from the sources to see where its content appears in the synthesis. Although the point is to show how to use copyrighted sources, we couldn't show the entire source articles if they were copyrighted; so we've drawn our material from a novel that's no longer under copyright. As noted in the section on copyright, though, you should mostly avoid close-copying from public domain sources too, for both neutrality and originality.
Suppose you're browsing news on the internet and find the following article — while it's still fresh. Let's say you're reading it the next day. You'd heard about this gentleman's death, and wondered about the circumstances, so you decide this is worth writing up for Wikinews.
Devon County Chronicle —
Your focal event is presumably the announcement of the conclusions of the inquest, which took place apparently on June 14, one day ago; the death took place eleven days ago, so as a focus it would be quite stale.
For a synthesis article you need a second, independent source. You look further and find this:
Daily Scandal —
Okay, you've got your two sources. They're clearly mutually independent. Let's suppose both newspapers are fairly reputable at least in terms of fact-checking, even if —as seems clear— they may leave something to be desired in neutrality. For us, the difference of perspective helps illuminate skew in the sources; and we can offer our readers a neutral view of the story.
How do you turn these two sources into a Wikinews article? Neither of them follows Wikinews style. One approach would be to list the five Ws and H, jot down very-short answers for as many as you reasonably can, and forge the answers into a lede; then read the sources through and choose the key points you want to go into detail about, choose how to arrange them, take notes for each point on what the sources say about it, write your points, and copyedit the whole for smooth flow. (Notes for this synthesis.) Voila.
By whatever process, let us suppose you write the following. Notice that
- passages in the synthesis often draw on disparate parts of the sources.
- when things next to each other in a source are both used in the synthesis, they are often apart from each other in the synthesis.
- of those ideas from each source that are used in the synthesis, their overall ordering is rearranged, and they are intermixed with ideas from the other source.
- the reordering of ideas, and the omission of some information from the sources, do more than reduce similarity to sources (though they certainly do that) — they also provide a new manner of presentation of the story, which is due to the synthesis author.
- more than three consecutive words verbatim from a source (with some common-sense exceptions).
- stock phrases
- peculiar idioms and turns of phrase used by a source.
- a sequence of consecutive ideas from a source in the same order as in the source.
- ideas from a source using the same nontrivial sentence structure as the source.
- Failure to cite the sources you use.
- If a source isn't acceptable, you shouldn't have been using them in the first place.
Conditions of copyrightEdit
- Everything written is under copyright by default: copyright is automatic unless explicitly relinquished. For example, virtually all blogs are copyright by their authors.
- Some things are explicitly put into the public domain —thus, no copyright— such as neutrality, as well as originality (not to mention keeping in practice), it's best not to copy too much from these sources. . In those cases you should beware of bias. Often things are put into the public domain because their author has deliberately put a certain "spin" on events and wants that spin to be circulated as widely as possible. So for
- When using exact words, use quotation marks. Failure to use quotation marks for exact words is plagiarism.
- Do not quote the news sources. There are very rare exceptions, when a news source becomes part of the story. Under ordinary circumstances, you shouldn't be using the exact words of news sources in the first place.
- by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Our first source appears in the novel, our second is cobbled together from materials in the novel.
- It's not that much more of a stretch to be writing for Wikinews in 1889 than to be browsing the internet then.
- This is one of the three basic forms of plagiarism identified by Diana Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004, as quoted by b:Rhetoric and Composition/Plagiarism.