Skip to Main Content
Link to Library Homepage
Link to Library Homepage

INFS 614

This guide provides students in INFS 614 with material for mastering the use of library resources.

Introduction to Ethical Use of Information

In any research project, a review of the literature is going to involve use of the literature written by others. You will be quoting, paraphrasing, and citing the work of others.

Therefore, you will have to understand how to write about the work of others and how to cite their work using writing conventions appropriate to your field of study.

 In other words, you will need a basic understanding of the ethics of information use.

To gain that understanding, continue below to learn about:

  • Intellectual Property.  Defines "intellectual property" and describes the laws that govern it.
  • Ethical Use of Information. Helps you understand the ethical use of information by providing information on quoting, paraphrasing, and citing the work of others and on recognizing and avoiding plagiarism.

Intellectual Property

An important learning outcome of your university education is that you respect the intellectual property rights of others. 

I. What is "intellectual property"?

  • "Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. IP is divided into two categories:  Industrial property, which includes inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic indications of source; and Copyright, which includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs" (Source: "What is Intellectual Property?", WIPO-World Intellectual Property Organization).
  • In the United States, copyright law also protects computer programs and databases.
  • If interested in reading the U.S. laws, see: United States of America Laws, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

II. What should I know about copyright in order to legally use the work of others?

A. United States copyright law protects (1) literary works; (2) musical works, including any accompanying words; (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music; (4) pantomimes and choreographic works; (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; (7) sound recordings; and (8) architectural works.

  • Categories are interpreted broadly, so computer programs may be registered as literary works.
  • Copyright is automatic! Absence of a copyright mark or statement does NOT mean that an item is not copyrighted.
  • Copyright owners have exclusive rights of reproduction, adaptation, distribution, public performance and display.

B. As original work that is fixed in a tangible medium, material on the Web is protected. It is illegal to grab an image off someone else's web page and put it on your web page without the permission of the copyright owner.

C. For educational purposes, some uses of copyrighted material are allowed through provisions of copyright law such as "fair use."

  • In general, you can use only a small part of another's work.
  • If you would like to learn more about copyright, including how to determine if something is copyrighted, whether a legal exception allows a certain use, and more, see:  the Mundt Library's guide "Copyright Basics for Educators and Students."

III. Plagiarism vs. copyright infringement.

 A. Plagiarism is the use of another's work without giving proper credit. Plagiarism is an ethical issue while copyright infringement is a legal issue. 

  • For example, when copyright expires on a book so that the copyright owner no longer has exclusive legal rights, that does not remove your ethical responsibility to cite the work when you make use of the author's work.
  • Ethical responsibility relies on community standards.


Ethical Use of Information: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Citing

To use the work of others ethically, you will need to avoid plagiarizing by understanding how to quote, paraphrase, and cite the work of others.

  1. Citing
    1. Why cite?
      1. To give credit to those whose work you have used (whether by direct quote or by paraphrasing).
        1. Academic ethics require that writers be credited for their work and their writing.
        2. If you intentionally or unintentionally use the work of another without giving proper credit, you have plagiarized.
      2. To provide evidence to support what you are saying.
        1. A good bibliography of high-quality material demonstrates that your project is based on credible evidence.
        2. When well-integrated into your paper (or project), that evidence creates a strong and convincing paper or project.
        3. If your work is based on poor evidence, the credibility of your project is undermined.
      3. To allow your readers to find and read your sources.
        1. Professionals often trace back to the original sources to expand their own understanding and to use those sources in their own research.
    2. Why a specific citation style?
      1. Using a consistent style in a bibliography (or reference list) lets the reader know where in the citation to expect to find a title, where to expect to find an author, etc -- without actually labeling the parts of the citation. It makes it easier for your readers to understand your citations and find the sources you have cited.
      2. Although a variety of citation styles exist, each academic discipline will usually use a specific style. By using a single style such as APA or IEEE, a profession's readers are familiar with the style and understand how to read and interpret it.
    3. What do I need to know about citing sources?
      1. ​​​​​​​When to cite.
        1. When using other people's words, put quotes around the words and cite your source.
        2. When paraphrasing other people's words, cite that source.
        3. When you've borrowed an idea from someone else, cite them.
      2. How to cite sources within the body of the paper and how to create a list of sources cited in your paper -- the "bibliography" or list of "references."
        If you need help with a specific citation style, see "Guide to Citing Sources" for citation style guides such as APA, IEEE, and MLA.
  2. Avoiding plagiarism
    1. ​​​​​​​What is plagiarism?
      1. ​​​​​​​Plagiarism is the accidental or intentional use of someone else's ideas or work without properly citing the author. Whether accidental or intentional, the consequences are the same. It is your responsibility to understand and avoid plagiarism.

        "There is a cultural dimension to plagiarism as well. Here in the West we put a high value on individual genius and have all sorts of laws protecting intellectual property. We own our words, feel personally attached to them, and often take it as a personal offense if someone else takes them and passes them off as their own. In other cultures less emphasis is put on individual attribution and more on the social utility of texts and ideas and these are often shared and reused without any expectation of attribution.... So social norms have a lot to do with what is considered appropriate use of sources. Consider this a little lesson in the norms for source use in our social context." [Source: "Plagiarism: What is Plagiarism." In: Information Literacy Tutorial, Carnegie-Vincent Library, Lincoln Memorial University]
      2. Consequences for plagiarizing. Plagiarism is considered a major offense in academia. Depending on the situation, a student might fail the assignment, fail the course, and/or be denied re-enrollment at the university.
    2. How do I avoid plagiarism? Be able to recognize it!  
      1. The Indiana University Bloomington School of Education provides a series of tutorials describing plagiarism. You can look through the tutorials at Tutorials and Practice.
  3. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Quoting, paraphrasing and citing: examples for information systems, information assurance, and computer science
    1. Quoting and Paraphrasing, Accessible Computer Science Research Guide, Dalhousie University



Why do you need to evaluate the information you use?

Because the argument, information, project, etc. on which you are working is only as strong as the evidence you bring to it. Your writing or presentation takes on the "character" of your sources.

  • If you use unreliable sources, your own paper will be unreliable and unbelievable.

  • In most cases, you are not an expert. So to be believable to your readers, you must bring to your paper (& other projects) the opinions and research of experts. Such sources are written by the experts themselves or rely on expert opinion/research for their content.

  • The stronger your evidence, the better your presentation will stand up to critical judgment by your professor. Therefore, selecting high quality information is extremely important.


Five Criteria for Evaluating Any Information Source

Source:Beck, Susan. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: or, Why It’s a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources. 1997. Revised 2009 version.

  1. Accuracy -- is the information reliable and error free?

    • Is there an editor or someone who verifies/checks the information? Is it peer-reviewed?

    • Is there adequate documentation: bibliography, footnotes, credits, quotations?

    • Are the conclusions justified by the information presented?

    If you are unable to verify accuracy based on these 3 bulleted items, look outside the source itself (do additional research): Is the information verified in other sources? Do experts agree on the findings?

  2. Authority -- Is the source of the information reputable?

    • What are the author's qualifications? staff reporter? scholar in field?

    • How did you find the information? Did you use an index or references from other works?

    • What type of source is it? Sensationalistic? Popular ? Scholarly?

    • What is the reputation of the publisher?

    If no individual is taking responsibility for the article, who is?

    Evaluate the publisher's reputation for guaranteeing accuracy. (If no author is given on a web page, is the sponsor of the page reputable? If the sponsor is also not indicated on the web page, can you determine its origin from the URL and digging deeper into its website)

  3. Objectivity -- Does the information show bias?

    • What is the purpose of the information? -- Inform? Persuade? Explain? Sway opinion? Advertise?

    • Does the source show political or cultural biases?

    If you are unable to determine objectivity based on the bulleted items above, look outside the source (do more research): Do other sources provide other viewpoints?

  4. Currency - When was the information published? When was the information collected?

    • Is it current?

    • Does it reflect the time period about which you are concerned?

  5. Coverage -- Does it provide the evidence or information you need?

    • Is the audience for which it is intended appropriate for your purposes? (professional, layperson, child, adult?)

    • Is it suitable for your level of understanding? (too simple, too difficult?)

    • Is the information in the appropriate format? (print, electronic, video, sound?)

    Does it cover the topic(s) you need? Does it provide the main points or concepts you need? Do its major findings add to your understanding? Do they support or refute your original ideas on the topic?