Month: September 2013

Using Wikipedia as a Source

It’s apparently that kind of week. Two people tried to post blogs that verbatim took content from Wikipedia, without any other additions, and attempted to pass them off as their own. The first attempt raised red flags as I read through and thought to myself, Wow, this has detailed information and is written in a style I’m not used to this person using. And it’s not citing statistics, or where these were found. And these days, a simple copy and paste of a few lines into Google pulled up that, yes indeed, the entire blog was just boosted from the Wikipedia page on the same topic. Word. For. Word.

The next blog came a day afterwards, so I was on the lookout already. Sensing again that the topic was seemingly well-researched with no citations, I again copy and pasted some lines, and yet again was taken to the Wikipedia entry for the subject.

So should use use Wikipedia as a source? Should you cite information taken from articles? What are the usage rules? Is it considered plagiarism if it’s an open-source website?

First, let’s define plagiarism. Dictionary.com notes that plagiarism is, “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

Both these blogs meet the criteria of passing another’s work off as their own. I would call this definite plagiarism. Maybe you could argue that Wikipedia provides information that is “general knowledge,” but I bet if I challenged both of these writers to write a blog about the topic they were writing WITHOUT using sources… just from their own knowledge, they wouldn’t be able to successfully rewrite the blog with those facts, statistics, or even ideas.

So here are my answers: No, I do not think you should use (or trust) Wikipedia as a source. But if you do, then yes, you definitely need to cite that you’re using it. And if you do cite it, make sure you’re linking back to the article, or – ideally – you’ve taken the time to follow Wikipedia to the source that it used, and link back to that.

There are some great websites and articles on why you should probably not use Wikipedia as a source. Especially in an academic paper. From my time as a writing consultant for university students, I would always highly discourage them from even looking at a Wikipedia entry until after they familiarized themselves with the topic or idea from other sources. Yes, Wikipedia is a great tool for quick information on a subject – say, if you’re having a conversation with a friend. But no, I wouldn’t trust it as the sole source for your knowledge on a subject.

Even Wikipedia cautions against its own usage as a source. On its citation page, it states, “For many purposes, but particularly in academia, Wikipedia may not be an acceptable source; indeed, some professors and teachers may reject Wikipedia-sourced material completely. This is especially true when it is used without corroboration.”

They go on to remind users that, “Wikipedia is a wiki, which means that anyone in the world can edit an article, deleting accurate information or adding false information, which the reader may not recognize.”

You might have heard of this happening. Years ago, Stephen Colbert led a charge to change information on several Wikipedia articles, and even create an article on robotic bears. The Church of Latter Day Saints has had a public battle with Wikipedia over information listed on its page. And a story of experience comes from one of my previous professors who said the day she stopped using Wikipedia was when she was browsing an article on a topic for her book, and she came across an interesting bit of information that was new to her. She considered herself knowledgable on the subject (others even considered her an expert on the subject), so she followed the citation to see where Wikipedia had found it. Turns out? It said that SHE was the source. And she definitely was not. But this is how Wikipedia can be dangerous, as to anyone else – even someone who might know a bit about that subject – having her as the source of that tidbit would look legitimate. But you have to always be careful.

So there you have my opinion. What about yours? Is it okay to use Wikipedia as a source for information? Is it a site that needs to be cited? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Writing Update: Productivity Pitfalls – Summer, Where Did You Go?

This writing update will be short and sweet, as I have a confession to make: September has gotten away from me! As life sometimes does, it slowly yet surely squeezes into your personal writing time. For me, the end of the summer brought on weddings and wedding planning for good friends, tennis league finals, and some personal projects. So heading into fall, I haven’t finished as much as I was hoping for – yet I’m still optimistic.

I was reading some helpful articles and happened upon one regarding Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid. Now I’m going to work on two during the last week of September.

4. Trying to force productivity. Understanding your writing rhythms and honoring them is key to finding and sustaining a flow you can count on.

This is important to me because when I try and force myself to write, I’m not very productive, and then the next time I have some free time, I might avoid writing because my latest previous experience was so difficult. I want to cherish and cultivate the writing periods where I’m looking forward to sitting down and getting work done.

7. Transition turbulence. Work to establish rhythms for everything from sitting down to the blank page to completing a writing session, so that shifts from one project to the next don’t leave you in a lull.

This is important for me because I tend to get distracted easily, and once I complete a project, or even a short-term goal, I risk killing my momentum by getting up to do something else, non writing-related.

These are the two specific productivity pitfalls I’m going to work on this first week of fall. What about you? How was your productivity this summer? Which of the writing pitfalls do you find yourself struggling against? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Upcoming Writing Conferences

I wanted to take a look at some upcoming writing conferences and festivals from now on out to 2014. I’m not including conferences or festivals I’ve already discussed in prior posts (Such as the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference), but a few that I’ve only heard of out there.

As with any festival or conference, always think about what you want to get out of it before you sign up –  and especially before you pay any money! Some are more about workshopping pieces, others are more about gathering contacts and networking, and others are mostly all panels.

Bread Loaf in Sicily
September 15-21, 2013
Erice, Sicily
www.biddlebury.edu/blwc
Entry: $2,495-2,695
Registration: apply for acceptance
Why I chose this: Many of my writer friends have talked about Bread Loaf (though perhaps not this Sicily location!) and I’ve heard positive and negative things. As I have never attended, I won’t mention those here, suffice to say that it’s definitely worth looking into.
Blurb from their website: “Bread Loaf is not a retreat – not a place to work in solitude. Instead it provides a stimulating community of diverse voices in which we test our own assumptions regarding literature and seek advice about our progress as writers.”

Writer’s Digest Conference
September 27-29, 2013
Los Angeles, CA
http://www.writersdigestconference.com/
Entry: $449-$699
Registration: first come, first served
Why I chose this: Well, if you’re in Los Angeles and are looking to meet some folks in the literary world, this seems like a good place to do it. Okay, the price tag is a bit high, but if your queries aren’t working, then maybe it’s time to put a face with your name.
Blurb from their website: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors.”

Writers Studio at UCLA
February 6-9, 2014
UCLA, Westwood, California
blogs.uclaextension.edu/writers/programs-services/writers-studio
Entry: $895 ($815 through 1/6/14)
Registration: first come, first served
Why I chose this: If you’ve been in LA long enough, you’ve heard of this Writers Studio. This intense 4-day workshop is like a high-powered, condensed conference.
From their website: “Presented once a year by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, the Writers Studio brings together a community of writing students to workshop with some of Southern California’s most accomplished writers and teachers.”

AWP 2014
February 26 – March 1, 2014
Seattle, Washington
www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference
Entry: $45 – $230 (Early Bird); $60 – $285 (Will Call)
Registration: first come, first served
Why I chose this: Okay, this I’ve been to and I loved. If you’re looking to get blown away by what’s out there; if you want to network and discover a whole lot of literary magazines and writing programs you’ve probably never heard of before; if you want to hear some good panels and network – this conference is for you.
From their website: “AWP provides support, advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 500 colleges and university creative writing programs, and 125 writers’ conferences and centers. Our mission is the foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
April 12 – 14. 2014
USC, Los Angeles, CA
http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/
Entry: Free, though panels should be reserved beforehand and cost minimal $
Registration: first come, first served
Why I chose this: Because I love this festival and it’s at my alma mater! Because if you’re in Los Angeles this is a great way to see all the different booksellers, writing groups, programs, and authors together. It’s outside, it’s fun, and it’s all about books!
From their website: “Spend a fun-filled weekend at the Los Angeles of Times Festival of Books… Get to know famous authors and celebrities, see culinary guests create their latest recipes, catch film screenings and live music, enjoy cultural entertainment, and much more.”

PEN World Voices Festival
April 28 – May 4, 2014
New York
Why I chose this: Okay, so I obviously don’t have much information about this one yet, but I respect PEN and know several people involved with the PEN CENTER and I would just keep this on your radar.
From their website: “Pen World Voices recognizes global literary talent celebrating writing in its most creative forms.”

Any other thoughts? Have you attended a writing conference that you loved? A festival? Post in the comments section.

Know Your Libraries: County of LA & LA Public

Chances are, you’ve used the public library to check out a book. Perhaps the Los Angeles Public Library or the County of Los Angeles Public Library. All Los Angeles residents can obtain a free library card at either.

Public libraries have always been a huge part of my life. I remember signing up for my first library card and spending summers sitting in the rows, reading titles, developing book lists, and participating in summer reading programs.

But while we all might have used the library systems, we might not take much time to actually learn a bit more about them. So here’s a quick rundown of the two library systems I’ve used the most out in Los Angeles – how well do you know your libraries?

The County of Los Angeles Public Library

The County of Los Angeles Public Library serves the residents living in 51 of the 88 incorporated cities of LA County. Established in 1912, it operates over 80 branches and has a budget of over $165mm dollars. According to the 2012 Annual Report released by the County, over 11.8mm people visited the county library system in 2012, and 7.3mm logged onto the new virtual library.

Did you know…

Registered library cardholders in good standing may:

  • Check out up to 50 circulating materials.
  • Place up to 50 items on hold.
  • Order books from other libraries within the county system for local pick-up.
  • Reserve internet terminals for up to an hour.
  • Print 10 pages free per day.
  • Access free, unlimited wifi.

The Los Angeles Public Library

The LAPL serves the residents of Los Angeles and is one of the largest public library systems in the world. The board who oversees it is appointed by the LA Mayor. Established in 1872, it operates over 70 branches and has a budget of more than $130mm.

Did you know:

  • Registered library cardholders in good standing may:
  • Check out up to 10 books, 10 magazines, and 3 DVDs – up to 30 items at a time.
  • Place up to 30 items on hold.
  • Order books from other libraries within the country system for local pick-up.
  • Access free, unlimited wifi in many of the library’s branches

What do you love most about libraries? Share in the comments section!

Labor Day Writing Prompt

It’s Labor Day!

I hope everyone is enjoying the time off from work and relaxing in a way you see fit. For many, Labor Day is a time to relax and say farewell to the end of the main summer season. Children are returning to school and you can smell fall in the air.

The original Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement, when leaders decided that the working-class American deserved a federal holiday and day off. Pulled from the United States Department of Labor website, Labor Day “constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

What better way to celebrate than to take some time off today and do what you love to do? If this means taking time to write – why not put some thoughts down on paper? Ask yourself: what are my goals for September? What do I want to accomplish?

For me, it’s going to be increasing my Twitter following, continuing to do some major rewrites on my novel chapters, and tearing though some of these old workshop notes I’ve avoided checking out. I’ve got some weddings coming up to attend and other personal trips planned that will hopefully reenergize me for the fall.

Labor Day Writing Prompt: Many people have forgotten the history of Labor Day and how the first Labor Day came about. Take another holiday or idea (it could be a popular idiom, a famous quote, lyric, or line from a poem) and break it down into three parts. (1) Write what the popular notion is; (2) use your own creativity and come up with your own idea of what the true history and origin is; (3) do a bit of research and write down what its true beginnings were.

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