Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tools for the home researcher 2 - Using your scanner

This post continues my new irregular series on the things that I have learned that may help the home researcher.

This post is going to sound a bit like the current habit of plagiarism that universities are trying to stamp out and indeed it does start with something of the same technique. However, the results are different.

Just at the moment my scanner is broken. I am actually having to key things in. This approach will work much better if you can scan into Word.

I am presently writing some stuff on Aboriginal social structures. I have decide to use John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999 as a base. I am not trying to steal their ideas. I want to make sure that I acknowledge their contribution.

I have copied the relevant section almost verbatim. Then at the end of each paragraph I have added my own comments as footnotes pointing to areas where I agree, disagree or which require further work. In doing so, I have been careful to record the original page number for each paragraph.

I now have a document that marks the first point in a dialogue with the thoughts and words of the authors, one that I can print, read and think about.

As I do further reading I will amend the text. I have written on some of the ideas already. Here I will compare the ideas and amend. In other cases, I know of other sources. New material can be added as either footnotes or in the main body, again recording source.

In writing, one of the key things that I want to do is to compare the general Australia wide statements of the authors with the on-ground position in New England. Is there a variation between the two? If so, what does it mean? Here I am particularly concerned at the way central and north Australian examples are generalised, given variation in Aboriginal cultures across the country.

The document evolves as a working document, a continuing dialogue.

I do not want to steal the original ideas. So, depending on the nature of the changes, I will acknowledge the original contribution in either footnotes or the text itself. I also save the first copy as V1 and then save major changes later as V2, V3 etc. That way I can check wording and ideas as to sources.

Simple isn't it, and I think quite fair. But does it breach copyright?

I don't think so. Copying a very small section of a work for private review would seem to me to be fair dealing.

The approach actually works best with small sections. The problem with large scale scissors and paste, say bringing together a number of documents from the web and then trying to meld them in some way, is not just the almost certain risk of plagiarism in the end result, but the time and difficulty involved in the process.

Return to first post in this series.

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