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Documentation Sources

As a college student, you will often be asked to perform research on various topics for classes. Researching topics can be very difficult and frustrating. For this reason, the writing lab has included the following information on finding and citing resources. Remember, you should always cite your resources to avoid plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a very serious ethics issue in writing and is characterized by taking the words or thoughts of another writer without giving proper acknowledgement to the source. By intentional misconduct or by being unaware of what must be cited, plagiarists steal the work of others and submit this work as their own. Writers must give credit to sources of original material that is quoted, paraphrased, or summarized in their papers. Students guilty of plagiarism can receive a failing mark for the paper or for the entire course, and, in cases of extreme disregard for crediting sources, writers may be suspended from college. The Internet has enabled us to access information which plagiarists can easily copy and paste into compositions. Search engines and specialized plagiarism detection tools make it just as easy for professors and instructors to find unacknowledged information (even material purchased from sites that sell essays). You can find more information about Walters State's stance on plagiarism at the English department's Plagiarism and Related Practices and syllabi section Policy on Plagiarism, at the library's Avoiding Plagiarism by Citing Sources, or in paragraph #2 of the college's policy on "Academic and Classroom Misconduct" in the Academic Information section of the college catalog. Detailed information on avoiding plagiarism may be found in Chapter 45 of The Little, Brown Handbook, 11th ed. or at the companion website. Additional explication is given at The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.

Finding Sources

As a student, you have numerous places to find sources for your research. The Walters State Community College's Library has many resources to offer. Through the library, you can access the library's academic databases, ebooks, or even browse the in-house selections. Outside of the library, the internet is available for research; however, you must be careful when using the internet for research because not all the resources available on the World Wide Web are reliable. For this reason, the writing lab has included sections on finding sources, and evaluating them. Choose from one of the following options:

Databases

Databases are collections of information, many of which consist of reliable sources to support scholarly research. Most databases to which Walters State's library subscribes contain primary sources that have been peer reviewed or refereed by experts in the field before being published in scholarly journals. Some course writing assignments accept only material that has passed this rigorous standard. You may access the library's databases from either on campus or off campus. Simply select a database, enter keyword(s), select "peer reviewed" or "refereed" and "full text" if these options are available, and then click on "search."

Metasearch

Internet search engines do not search the entire web, but rather databases chosen by the company that hosts the engine. Because the databases chosen vary among search engines, the results from one engine may differ greatly from those of a second engine when you enter the same search term. Metasearch engines search the databases of several search engines at once and can, thereby, quickly expand match possibilities. Some popular metasearch engines include:

Deep Web Search

Did you know there are areas of the World Wide Web that are "invisible" to most search engines? These areas usually contain very specialized information, information that changes very frequently, or material that is available only by subscription. The databases that contain this information are often called "Invisible Web" or "Deep Web." For more information on the Invisible Web, see:

Limiting or Expanding your Search

Because a search engine looks for any page that includes a search term(s), you may be presented far more pages than you can reasonably consider. Moreover, many of these pages may have little to do with the emphasis of your research. How can you limit the number of "hits," or matches, that a search engine returns for your keyword(s)? How can you more closely target the sites that address the particular focus of your research? Alternately, your search query may yield far fewer documents than you wish. How can you broaden the search to get the information you need?

Academic and professional directories, unlike the general subject directories in search portals such as Yahoo! and Lycos, are carefully considered and frequently annotated by experts. To find directories, you can visit UC Berkeley's Recommended Subject Directories.

Quotation marks around two or more search words can narrow your search by causing search engines to look at the words as one term and present sites that contain the phrase, rather than sites which include any word in the phrase.

Boolean operators are behind the logic in advanced search options in many search engines. The capitalized operators AND, OR, and NOT are commonly used to refine a search query. The operator AND narrows the search by returning only documents that include all of your keywords. On the other hand, the operator OR expands the search by retrieving documents that contain either of the keywords. The operator NOT or AND NOT limits the search by showing documents in which the first keyword, but not the second, appears.

Field limiting allows a user to search a particular part of a page such as title (Google uses "allintitle"), URL, image, et cetera. A colon separates the field from keyword(s). For instance, title: Walters State would cause the engine to look for web page titles that include "Walters State."

Keyword + "database" enables you to search many online databases, some of which are sponsored by government agencies and may serve as primary sources of information.

Proximity or positional operators ADJ (for adjacent) or NEAR are used by some search engines to retrieve documents in which keywords are within a specified distance of each other. The first pages listed in the search results are those in which the keywords are closest.

Using a wild card or stemming with some search engines allows you to find variations of a word by typing part of the word followed by an asterisk. For example, automo* will return sites that include "automobile" as well as "automotive."

Evaluating Sources

After you find a source, you must evaluate it to make sure the source is reliable and gives you the information you need. Most courses for which you write expect scholarly research based on reliable sources. To locate quality online information, you should ask:

What makes the source an authority? Does the site give the name of the author or sponsor? Does the author have a sound reputation in his or her field of expertise?

What appears to be the purpose of the page? Does this author or sponsor seem to have an agenda beyond sharing information? Does the author stand to benefit in any way from the ideas he or she advances? Does advertising appear on the page? If the author has ulterior motives in presenting ideas, these motives may affect his or her trustworthiness.

Is contact information given? Postal and/or email addresses are one indicator of dependability. If you find a tilde (~) in the site's web address, reliability is suspect because this usually signals a personal web page.

Does the page display a copyright symbol? Highly regarded sites often do.

Is there a publication date or a date of last revision? Sources should be current if your topic is current. If no date is shown, the material on the page could be outdated.

Is the site a primary source of information? Usually preferred over secondary sources, primary sources are firsthand observers. Most databases to which Walters State's library subscribes contain primary sources that have been peer reviewed or refereed by experts in the field before being published in scholarly journals. Popular magazines and newspapers are common examples of secondary sources that are based on secondhand information; their articles are not subject to the sort of scrutiny required by scholarly publications and are generally less reliable.

Has the author appropriately cited or linked reliable sources to support his or her research? If not, the writer may be considered unethical.

Are you able to compare the information from this source against material from a reputable source?

Is the writing organized and free from errors? Expertly-written or peer-reviewed selections present clearly arranged ideas and adhere to other standards of good writing practice.

Documenting Sources

Acknowledging the sources of information used in your composition generally means showing within the text where borrowed ideas begin and end as well as furnishing a complete list of sources at the end of the paper. The specific style or format usually depends on the discipline for which you write.

Choose the governing citation format for your course listing:

  1. MLA, if you are writing for English, foreign languages, or selected other humanities
    1. For citation examples see the English Department's Guide to Literary Documentation or links at the bottom of the library's page on Avoiding Plagiarism by Citing Sources. For answers to frequently asked questions, see MLA Style FAQ.
  2. APA, if you are writing for psychology, education, or some other social sciences
    1. APA style, devised by the American Psychological Association, is the preferred format in psychology, education, and a number of other social sciences. For style guidelines or sample in-text and reference entries, visit the sites whose links are at the bottom of the library's page on Avoiding Plagiarism by Citing Sources or examine APA's Style Tips, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, Writer's Web , Bedford/St. Martin's Online!, or Delta College's Information Competency.
      1. Video Tutorial for using APA
      2. APA Homepage
  3. CSE, if you are writing for biological and some other natural sciences
    1. CSE style, established by the Council of Science Editors (formerly the Council of Biology Editors), is the format associated with biological and other natural sciences. For more information and sample entries, see The Little, Brown Handbook's companion web site's CSE Style, Bedford/St. Martin's Online!, or The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.
  4. AMA, if you are writing for the sciences and some medical professions.
    1. AMA style, established by the American Medical Association is the citation format commonly associated with many scientific papers, or papers published in the medical profession. For more information and sample entries, see the following websites:
      1. http://library.stkate.edu/pdf/citeAMA.pdf
      2. http://www2.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/workshop/citation.htm
      3. http://libguides.hsl.washington.edu/ama

Formatting your Essay

Documents for each field of study are formatted according to standards set by the discipline. Every format specifies layout tenets such as line spacing, indentions, font types and sizes, margins, headers, quotations, and so forth. Choose the governing document format for your course listing:

MLA (The Modern Language Association)

MLA format is used in English, foreign languages, and some other humanities. Conventions for this style include at least a one-inch margin on each side of the page with double-spaced content and paragraph indentions of five spaces. Each page, except for title pages, receives a header which includes your last name and page number (small Roman numerals for outline pages and Arabic numerals for the body and the works cited page). Use "View" in Microsoft Word to produce headers that are automatically positioned one-half inch from the top of the page as MLA format stipulates. For more information on producing headers with automatic page numbering, see the University of Florida's ETD Technical Support site. Some instructors require a title page which gives identifying information: the title of your paper, your name, the instructor's name, the course name and number, and the date. Other courses may direct you to put this information on the first page of the body. Typical acceptable font sizes are 10-point or 12-point (recommended) in Times New Roman or Arial style; be consistent in both size and style. Quoted material is usually incorporated into text by enclosing the material in quotation marks followed by a parenthetical citation. See the Documenting sources section of this site for specific directions and samples of in-text citations. Block quotes (prose quotations of five or more typed lines or poetry quotations of more than three lines) are set off from the rest of the text with 10-space indentions, but quotation marks do not surround these longer quotes.

A number of standards, in addition to those listed above, are outlined by MLA. To learn more about MLA document format or to view properly formatted papers, see the following:

APA (American Psychological Association)

APA format is used in psychology, education, and a number of other social sciences. Conventions for this style include a one-inch margin on each side of the page with double-spaced content and paragraph indentions of one-half inch. Each page receives a right-aligned manuscript header which includes the first two or three words from the title, five spaces, and the page number. The title page is page 1; the paper's text begins on page 2, unless you include an abstract. In that case, the abstract is on page 2 and text begins on page 3. Use "View" in Microsoft Word to produce headers that are automatically positioned one-half inch from the top of the page as APA format stipulates. For more information on producing headers with automatic page numbering, see the University of Florida's ETD Technical Support site. A separate title page is required, and headings of varying levels may be used to mark sections within the paper. Acceptable font size is 12-point in Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier style; be consistent in font style. Quoted material of forty words or less is incorporated into text by enclosing the material in quotation marks followed by a parenthetical citation. Set-off quotations of more than forty words are indented, but not enclosed in quotation marks. See the Documenting sources section of this site for specific directions and samples of in-text citations.

A number of standards, in addition to those listed above, are outlined by APA. To learn more about APA document format or to view properly formatted papers, see the following:

CSE ( Council of Science Editors)

CSE format is used in biological and some other natural sciences. Even though CSE employs a particular format for citations, this style does not specify manuscript guidelines for student writing. See your professor's directions for specifications, or use APA document format criteria. Visit the APA section of this site for more information.

To learn more about CSE document format or to view formatted papers, see the following: