In a Digital World: Always Attribute Sources! Back-to-School 2011

Old card catalog drawers at the Library of Congress

When I was in what we used to call junior high, working on my first bona-fide school research projects, mired down with things to read, and wishing to be finished, my father reminded me over and over again, “… you cannot attribute too much, only too little.” Even now, years later, with only a few words written on a page, I start thinking about Dad’s attribution credo.

Every parent of digital kids needs to share Dad’s strategy whenever children are working on school projects and papers. It is way too easy, in this age of Google, Wikipedia, and easy instant access to digitized scholarly articles, to write about another person’s ideas without giving credit.

I was reminded of my dad when I read the September 11, 2011 Washington Post Ombudsman column. In Plagiarism or Poor Attribution? Patrick B. Pexton writes about an op-ed piece on women and computer programming that appeared two weeks earlier, one that described how many woman used to be programmers. Pexton wonders if the author credited enough of her sources. Continue reading