To link or not to link?

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Mathew Ingram raises an interesting question in his paidContent blog: is linking to a post or page from which one is quoting sufficient to avoid charges of plagiarism, or is more needed by way of attribution?

What makes the question even more interesting is that it is based on an article recently posted in The Atlantic.  It seems that the links in the original story were lost at the editing stage, out of the author’s hands.  When the article appeared online, it had no links, and gave the impression that the original author had plagiarised much of his material.

I think that alone is enough to suggest that links are not enough, that full attribution should be made, in writing, in the article. A live hyperlink is useful, but not necessary.   A full reference might help a reader find the original, even if the link does not work.  It is not unknown for web content to change, for pages to move, to disappear, to be archived at a different URL or site.  Providing full details might lead to that original being traced, wherever it is.  Non-links and dead links are no help at all.

And it goes, almost without saying, that a direct quotation does need to be marked as such – by quotation marks, or indenting, or any other way of showing that these are not the author’s own words.

As far as academic writing goes, I believe MLA made a mistake in the 7th edition, declaring that URLs are optional, with the preference being for no URL.  We ask for page numbers in quotations made from print material; it seems reasonable to require the page URL for web sites.  Yes, I have just argued that URLs sometimes lead nowhere. Often they do. And then again, a dead URL sometimes comes alive again in the Internet Archive. We want to give the reader every chance they have to find the original.

This reminds me of an ongoing discussion in the OCC pages of the International Baccalaureate. The question here is, can one use a shortened URL, a TinyURL or a URL, instead of the full URL?  Me, I argue against it. These short forms are sometimes unstable, so the original page cannot be found again. And they disguise the site, the reader has no means of knowing how authoritative or biased or reliable or reputable the site claimed might be, without actually following the link.

Help the reader, that’s my take. A link is not enough.

Work Cited (MLA7 style)
Ingram, Mathew. Plagiarism and the Link: How the Web Makes Attribution Easier — and More Complicated. 9 March 2013.  Web. 10 March 2013. <>

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