Document Type: Original Article
Brock University, Canada
At first glance it is surprising that – in remarkable contrast to grammatical or lexical failings which, while certainly not viewed as insignificant, are rarely greeted with outright anger or hostility – inappropriate documentation of scholarly sources so frequently provokes very harsh penalties. Rather than the constructively pedagogical approach that one would expect with regard to other defects in writing, why do we so often witness a rush to negative evaluation of what may, after all, be evidence of nothing more culpable than misinformation, confusion, or oversight? Much has of course been written about possible remedies for ineffective use of scholarly sources and, on the other hand, about available monitoring and punishment for deliberate plagiarism; so, in a sense, the alternatives appear quite simple. However, decisions about when to adopt a more pedagogical or a more disciplinary viewpoint are complicated by difficult and potentially emotional factors that can disrupt calm, confident and well-reasoned judgment. Thus, this paper will focus not on pedagogical or disciplinary strategies, whichever may be considered suitable in a given case, but on a framework for thorough reflection earlier in the thinking process. It will explore multiple perspectives on possible origins for the innocent if maladroit mishandling of scholarly sources, with a view to highlighting a number of informative but potentially neglected reference points – a cognitive psychological perspective on human error and error management, plausible ambiguities in determining what actually constitutes plagiarism, and communication challenges – that may enter into the instructor’s final determination.