I’m once again lying low, this time because I’m writing an analytical research paper for my technical writing class. A few weeks ago, our instructor put the fear of God in us with a series of "plagiarism" lectures. Basically she showed us every which way you can plagiarize someone else’s work, then your world would end (in an academic sense anyway). If you think I’m frustrated – you’re right. I must clarify: as the son of an English teacher, I understand and greatly appreciate the threat of plagiarism, and completely respect the awareness and preventative efforts. But how far is too far? When you fear the plagiarism god so much, that you can’t take credit for your own work.
Let me offer an example:
For my research paper I’ve decided to be lazy and write a subject I know all too much about – web design. I’ve been designing web sites for 10 years now, designing somewhere around 50 web sites throughout that time. Although I’m professionally a web developer, I can hold my own in design.
In preparation for this paper, I had to write a descriptive analysis with the intention that it will be used for my research paper. I decided to describe and compare table-based design with css-based design. A month ago I wrote this about tables:
Table-based design is the most widely-used methodology for web page layout. Tables were originally integrated into computers as a method to organize and visually display a matrix of data. As the Internet formed, tables transcended to incorporate their design elements and ultimately become part of the web page. Tables typically became used as headers and borders of web sites, as a table-based header reduced the need to create a graphic header for a web site. When it became possible to make the tables invisible, it created a new frontier of design possibilities.
Crude, but effective…
Fast-forward to this week, when I started reading David Sawyer McFarland’s "CSS: The Missing Manual" and came across an equally cool description of table-based design in Chapter 10 of his book:
HTML tables have seen a lot of use in the short history of the Web. Originally created to display data in a spreadsheet-like format, tables became a popular layout tool. Faced with HTML’s limitations, designers got creative and used table rows and columns to position page elements like banner headlines and sidebars.
I loved the second sentence, so I wanted to source it and cite it. I plugged it into my document and was ready to move on, when I realized that MY following sentences conveyed a message similar to his statement. Realizing I have to submit my cited sources with my paper, to avoid suspicion I am forced to change my paper to now read:
Table-based design is the most widely-used methodology for web page layout. “Originally created to display data in a spreadsheet-like format, tables became a popular layout tool” (McFarland). Early on designers realized that tables could be expanded to incorporate their design elements and ultimately become part of the web page (McFarland). Tables typically became used as headers and borders of web sites, as a table-based header reduced the need to create a graphic header for a web site (McFarland).
So now I’m giving McFarland credit for things that I wrote. I’m frustrated because this is common knowledge amongst web designers. It’s like explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using your own words, then finding someone wrote about it in “the history of jelly”. McFarland is getting paid to write about this, where I am essentially paying (through my tuition) to write essentially the same thing. Does this entitle him to get credit on my work? In the interests of good academic standing, I’m forced to oblige.