Ethical Use of Sources

This material has been adapted from: Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide. 3rd ed. Pages 49-51. Copyright 1980 by James D. Lester. Used by permission of Scott, Foresman Publishers, Inc.

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When you begin doing graduate-level research papers, you have more to consider than correct citation of source material. You must also use your sources in an ethical manner. The following are some guidelines for ethical use of research documents: 

1. Respect the author's intentions. Never use information in a way that is contrary to the author’s intentions. For example, Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men, reveals flaws in scientific studies that describe the connection between gender and behavior or aptitude. It would be an unethical treatment of her book to use some of the studies she cites for a paper about gender-related behavioral differences. 

2. Do not change the author's main idea. Although it is not always necessary to quote an entire passage to make your point, make sure that you have not changed the author’s main idea through selective quoting or use of ellipsis. 

The following excerpt from Deborah Gray White's book, Arn't I a Woman, is an example:

Original Source: “If, in order to ease the burdens of slavery, they made themselves available, they only fulfilled the prophecy of their lustfulness, which in turn made it more difficult for other black women to reject the overtures made by white men.”

Student Version: “In order to ease the burdens of slavery, they made themselves available, . . . which in turn made it more difficult for other black women to reject the overtures made by white men.”

3. Do not ignore information that conflicts with your thesis. It is not ethical to prove your thesis by ignoring well-known information that conflicts with or refutes it. A well-argued paper confronts such evidence. 

4. Context matters. Always be aware of the context (i.e. historical, sociological, cultural, etc.) in which your source document was produced.

 

Although you should keep these guidelines in mind when researching and writing your papers, you may run into a few gray areas such as: 

  • Texts that seemingly contradict their arguments.
  • Texts that contain information that can be used to support a thesis not addressed by the author.

In these cases, you must foreground your position in relation to the text. For example, you can state: "Although X attempts to show Y, it can be argued that the studies he cites support conflicting interpretations." 

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