National Paralegal College

Working with Scholarly Information

Because information is readily available to many of us within seconds, we see more and more that our moral and ethical boundaries about using this information are being challenged. It is not uncommon to see names of famous journalists and writers, such as Maureen Dowd and Fareed Zakaria, both linked to somewhat minor cases of plagiarism, turning up in the news for borrowing information. Even the beloved primatologist Jane Goodall’s most recent book was pulled from the shelves because of “borrowed” material. Goodall claimed she had not kept adequate notes, and the book was rereleased after corrections were made. Still, given these breaches in proper attribution of information, we know we are facing confusing times. What follows is an introduction to key concepts and strategies for accurately using information.

Intellectual Property

As good scholars and writers, we must be vigilant about understanding and applying the rules of working with source material. This material is the intellectual property of its creator, and intellectual property rights exist and exist for a reason: to protect the creators of these original works. These works might fall under but are not limited to the areas of journalism, literary writing, art, music, photography, scientific discovery, etc. Intellectual property is protected by law in many forms, including through trademark, copyright, and patent. This protection ensures that the creators of such works are recognized and financially compensated for their original and unique efforts. Thus there should be no “borrowing” of material in academic research and writing without proper attribution. Borrowing—or stealing —information by not attributing the work to its original author (also called citing) is equivalent to plagiarism.


In research and writing, students are often engaged with the work of other scholars. Students are examining or supporting an argument; asking a difficult question and looking for multiple perspectives; crafting a literary review and summarizing an article or a case—all of these are possibilities where a student might be working with information that comes from another scholar. If a student chooses to misrepresent the work of other scholars as his or her own and/or without the correct citation or attribution, this is considered plagiarism. The consequences of plagiarism vary across academic institutions, but most institutions penalize the student by failure in a course. Serious violations can result in suspension or removal from the institution.

Paraphrasing and Quoting

When working with scholarly information, students might find it necessary to paraphrase the argument of a scholar or directly quote from the scholar when the student cannot adequately paraphrase the information. In both paraphrasing ideas and directly quoting other scholars, in order not to plagiarize information, students must provide citations in the correct style of the discipline being represented. When paraphrasing, students must avoid using language and sentence structure that too closely models the work being paraphrased. The paraphrase should capture the student’s ability to distill the most important information from the scholar and present it in a new and interesting way, using correct documentation. When directly quoting information, the student must use beginning and ending quotation marks around any of the author’s language taken directly from the text. The amount of language used in a direct quotation should be as lean as possible. The quotation should also be properly documented. Students must be careful not to add any additional language to the quotation and/or omit language.


As students and scholars working on manuscripts based on our own industrious efforts, it behooves us to be aware not only of the rights of others but the rights surrounding our own intellectual efforts and work. After we have labored over our own research and writing, it is important to know that our work is protected, for a limited time, by copyright. Copyright ensures that our original creations are exclusively our own to distribute and profit from. According to the United States Copyright Office:

Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

Fair Use

Though our work may be our own, scholarship and the use of scholarly material is often a hot topic for debate, especially in academia and academic libraries. Because copyright protects original works for a significant amount of time, there are limitations on the amount of work we are allowed to use without copyright permission. Fair use means working with scholarly material for criticism and analysis where the societal benefits outweigh the rights of the copyright holder. It often means that scholarly articles or portions of books, especially those that are part of an academic library’s holdings, may be used for educational purposes, as long as they are not copied in their entirety. The American Library Association examines Fair Use in this way:

The Law: Fair use (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright code) provides parameters for the legal use of copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder. The law mandates that four factors be considered in determining whether or not a use is fair. These are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (

In most academic writing, we are examining the work of other scholars or professionals to become part of a scholarly or professional conversation. We look to this work to inform our own arguments, support or own ideas, or critique a perspective in light of our own. In these cases, paraphrasing or quoting brief passages of material would be within the boundaries of fair use. Fair use guidelines, however, remain purposefully vague, and most violations of copyright and fair use infringement are decided on a case-by-case basis in a court of law. When in doubt, fair use worksheets are often available through academic institutions, copyright management centers, and professional library organizations.

Working with Style Manuals

No matter the discipline in which one is working, style manuals are readily available to provide the support needed to correctly format and cite information. When working in the field of law, The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation and the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) Guide to Legal Citation are the preferred style manuals for citing legal documents. Style manuals such as these also provide information about citing electronic resources. Citation manuals exist for most disciplines—the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style Manual for the humanities and the American Psychological Association (APA) Publication Manual for the sciences and social sciences are widely used. If seeking publication of one’s own work, be aware that specific journals have their own style guidelines as well.


Ultimately, we must treat scholarly information and ideas as intellectual property-property that is owned by its creator and that is protected by law. Working with someone else’s intellectual property requires that we treat that work as we would want our own professional work treated—with respect and proper handling. By following guidelines for paraphrasing, quoting, and citing source material, we avoid the risk of plagiarism and showcase scholarship in a way that allows all to benefit.

Works Cited

“Copyright Basics.” Copyright. United States Copyright Office. Web. 30 April 2014.

“What is Fair Use?” American Library Association. Web. 30 April 2014.

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National Juris University, the graduate division of National Paralegal College, offers the following programs:

Master of Science in Legal Studies
Master of Science in Compliance Law
Master of Science in Taxation