Attribution, citing sources and avoiding plagiarism
How do you know that? Where did this information come from?
Any time you write, you have to answer these questions about everything that isn’t simply your opinion. It’s called attribution and citing your sources, and it lies at the foundation of the trust you want your readers to have in you.
In that spirit: The rest of this post is adapted — and at times copied word for word — from a message I sent out to Bleacher Report writers earlier this year. Our formal Attribution Guidelines can be found here.
Attribution 101: Source Your Content
Plagiarism is the passing off of the words or ideas of others as your own. It is one of the cardinal sins for a writer.
You must therefore be diligent when it comes to citing quotes and other content from your sources. Every time.
Here are some rules for B/R writers:
1. When quoting, paraphrasing or alluding to something written/reported by another writer, each reference must be clearly attributed to its source.
2. When sources are available online (most sources are these days), you must link your content to them.
3. When quoting an interview you conducted, or a press conference you attended, make it known to the reader.
Simple examples: “According to Source X,” “Person X told Reporter Y at Source Z,” or at least “Person X told Source Z,” and “Person X told me.”
Avoid unsourced rumors and allegations
Bleacher Report cannot stand behind a story with unsourced or unverifiable information.
Articles containing rumors (hirings/firings, trades, etc.) and/or allegations (criminal behavior, rule violations, etc.) require a clear, verifiable source.
1. When repeating information from a specific source, that source must receive attribution per the guidelines above.
2. Avoid using unverifiable phrases like “Sources say” or “According to a person in the know.” We don’t use anonymous sources at Bleacher Report.
3. Be extra clear when differentiating between fact, verifiable rumor and mere speculation.
Simple example: “Reporter X at Source Y is reporting that Player Z could soon be on the move.”
According to Plagiarism.org, all of the following are considered plagiarism:
- Turning in someone else’s work as your own
- Copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
- Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)
As Plagiarism.org notes, “Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided by citing sources.” As with most ethical issues, trouble can be avoided by employing some common sense. Of course, common sense is not so common.
That’s according to Voltaire. And that’s why it’s good to keep these guidelines in mind.
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Dan Bonato is Bleacher Report’s Copy Chief.