In general, I like Lifehacker’s website. It can be very useful sometimes.
But sometimes, it posts articles like this one that suggest running your paper through a plagiarism checker to find yourself more sources and/or catch a citation you may have missed. First off, if you’ve done your research properly, you shouldn’t need to find more sources. Secondly, how are you missing a citation at all?*
WHO TAUGHT THESE PEOPLE HOW TO WRITE A RESEARCH PAPER?!?
Either no one’s teaching proper research skills anymore or I’ve been doing it wrong for two decades.** (Hint: it’s the former.) When I write, I cite as I go. Because all the information is already right in front of me. This note is taken word for word from page 6 of the 43rd source. It’s word for word for two reasons: 1. so that if I need to, I can quote it directly without having to go back and look it up and, more importantly, 2. so I won’t inadvertently plagiarize the author when writing about this note. And of course, the source card with the number 43 on it has all the title/author/publisher information (in this case, the source is Chalmers Johnson’s Revolutionary Change). It’s not rocket science.
But I’m also a girl who writes very quickly, so it doesn’t bother me to cite as I go. Really, once the research is done and organized, how long can the writing possibly take? By that point, you’ve done so much research, you know your subject and, presumably, how you’re going to present your argument. I wrote my entire master’s thesis (all 130 pages of it) in about 12 days. But I also spent the better part of five months doing research, so by the time I got around to writing, it practically wrote itself.
Ignoring the plagiarism aspect for a moment, on the flip side of all of this, I think there’s an element to it that I can’t see. Because research is something from which I take great enjoyment and at which I’m very, very good. I don’t find research difficult. Challenging, yes, — sometimes more so than others — but never difficult. So, no, I don’t get why this sort of a life hack would be necessary because I don’t see why anything should be poorly researched.
But I also think there’s a huge line to be drawn between poor research — against which I have railed on more than one occasion in this space — and flat out plagiarism. And I feel like this post willfully supports an unacceptable gaming of the system that pulls just back from the brink of plagiarism. But it also words it in such a way as to seem helpful: “you might miss a few if you’re not careful.”*** But I’d argue that if you’ve cited, say, 40 things in a 20-page paper and your professor finds something you didn’t cite, he’s not going to fail you on the paper, but rather suggest, “You missed a citation here. Be more careful next time.” If you’ve made that many other citations, obviously the missed one was an oversight, not an attempt to cheat.
For the record, good luck to the idiots who are going to use this to find other sources. I ran the first page of one of my dissertation papers through a couple of these. One of them told me that a not-insignificant portion of my paper was very similar to…the website for Seattle’s transportation system? Yes…my paper on a 36-hour event in Belfast in 1970 was lifted in large part from Seattle’s transportation website. That seems about right. Another told me that an entire sentence of directly quoted material was original. I don’t even know what to do with that.
Moral of the story, as always: do your research. Also, stop making more work for yourself, cite as you go.
*Reading down into the comments, I was baffled by the number of people who are apparently writing their entire paper and then going back and finding where they were supposed to cite things. Why?
**Then again, I’m the girl who still writes her research out on notecards because it’s a system that works for me and allows me to move things around when I’m organizing what information belongs in what chapter.
***This, again, comes down to the question of why aren’t you citing as you go, which, again, probably comes down to the fact that no one’s teaching proper research skills.