Introduction to Academic Writing Practice

This preliminary part of the course is supposed to raise your awareness towards issues that are relevant in producing solid academic content, but should also prove useful in creating informative reports for potential future employers. Some of the issues discussed here will only really become relevant later on in the course, where they will also be revised, but you still need to be aware of them from an early point onwards, so that they are best introduced now.

Plagiarism: Why & How to Avoid It

Writing up academic research does not simply consist of copying and pasting ideas from different sources or listing whatever we know or have found out about the topic we are researching. Instead, this process involves gathering information from different reliable sources – generally academic books, journals, or research papers – digesting this information in a suitable manner, and writing up the results.

Throughout the writing process, we always need to ensure that we indicate in an appropriate way where we have obtained the relevant information, either by referencing/citing such sources that we do not quote literally, but whose information content we only paraphrase, or by using exact or slightly modified quotes from the original source texts.

Using these two methods, we can ‘protect’ ourselves from criticism by drawing on authoritative sources, who are usually experts in our fields, at the same time allowing our readers to verify the information by allowing them to easily check on the information we have provided. Therefore, what may initially look like an unnecessary and tedious exercise in fact turns out to benefit both the author and the reader.

If we fail to acknowledge our sources in a proper way, this is seen as a case of plagiarism and considered a kind of ‘crime’ in academic circles. It is like stealing someone else’s ideas instead of demonstrating that you have managed to find, digest, or develop the right kind of ideas/information yourself. The penalty for committing plagiarism may range from ’simply’ being marked down a grade for your assignments, to failing a complete course, depending on the severity of the case.

Here is a list of common forms of plagiarism

Plagiarism can usually be detected relatively easily, either by using dedicated computer programs, such as Turnitin, which will automatically be used to check your submissions on Blackboard, or often by running a few simple Google searches on parts of an assignment that do not fit in with the rest of the writing.

Any instructor with a little bit of experience in marking will usually be able to detect plagiarised passages quite easily, so it’s not even worth trying. On the other hand, if anyone manages to plagiarise in such a way that it does not ‘stick out’ in this way, then chances are that they will have had to put so much effort into achieving this that they probably could have written those parts of the text successfully themselves and demonstrated their understanding of the text by referencing appropriately ☺.

Ways of Referencing Sources

As pointed out above, referring to, or referencing, other people’s ideas can be achieved in two different ways, either by quoting them directly or re-phrasing (paraphrasing) them and then including a citation reference to the author(s) in your text. Paraphrases involve rewording of the text in a suitable form and a reference inside the same sentence or part thereof, while quotations require indicating what the quoted text is and also providing the reference.


There are essentially two slightly different forms of quoting. The first one is called short quote, where a relatively short passage of text – usually a single, important notion – is fully integrated into the sentence and enclosed in double quotation marks (“…”).

The following excerpt is taken from a research article. The writer discusses how teachers can help students learn and remember new English words. The last line enclosed in the pair of double quotation marks represent a short quote:

The best way to remember new words is to incorporate them into language that is already known. According to Baddeley (1990), the principle of incorporating new knowledge into old is so widely accepted as a basic requirement of learning, that learning itself can in some respects be considered as “problem-solving exercise in which one attempts to find the best way of mapping new learning onto old” (p.198).

A long quote or block quote, on the other hand, is where longer passages are cited as a separate block of text/paragraph, usually also with additional spacing, smaller font size (generally 2 points in word-processed documents), and left and right indents. The following is an example taken from Swales and Feak (2000) that is too long to be integrated into a sentence:

The LR [literature review] as part of a research paper, proposal, thesis, or dissertation is often thought of as being a boring but necessary chore... Such LRs are often criticized but are rarely praised. After all, one rarely hears comments such as “The most brilliant part of your thesis was the literature review”! (Swales & Feak 2000: 116)

As you can see, the quote above is visually separated from the remaining text, has indents on the left and right, and its font-size is suitably smaller than that of the running text. Because of the block format, no double quotes are required. The cited source is indicated directly after the quote and should generally also contain the page number(s) of the quoted text in the original.

When quoting longer passages of text, it is also essential that these are properly introduced in the preceding paragraph and then discussed in the following one. A common mistake that inexperienced writers often make is to assume that the contents of the quote are so self-evident that no further discussion is required. However, this is rarely – if ever – the case, and hence your discussion of a quote should further demonstrate your understanding of the contents of the quote, as well as that you can deal with them critically.

Here is an example of how a block quote can be introduced:

In his article “Dispositions for Good Teaching”, Howard (2007) concludes:

Having said this, it remains true that all American citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment right to remain imprisoned in their own conditioned narrowness and cultural isolation. This luxury of ignorance, however, is not available to us as teachers. Ours is a higher calling, and for the sake of our students and the future of their world, we are required to grow toward a more adaptive set of human qualities, which would include the dispositions for difference, dialogue, disillusionment, and democracy. These are the capacities that will make it possible for us to thrive together as a species. These are the personal and professional dispositions that render us worthy to teach.

The example of the quote above was taken from the web page, and hence there is no exact page reference, something we should ideally include as part of the information on where our quotes come from. What exactly these citation references – or citations, for short – are and look like will be discussed in the following section.

In-Text And End-Text Citations

Referencing a source includes two different sub-tasks:

  1. in-text citation, and
  2. end-text citation.

In-text citation basically means that there has to be an indication at the relevant place in your text which signals your referencing to a source. This is generally provided in short form either in round or square brackets (see below).

Relevance feedback is the key technique that improves the accuracy of content-based image retrieval (CBIR) by exploiting the users' interaction with CBIR systems (Rui et al. 1998).

The first application in our study is text categorization. Text categorization has been widely studied in the communities of data mining, information retrieval, and statistical learning [20], [21].

There are different ways of including in-text citations, but essentially, there are two major systems:

The IEEE is a major professional body and publisher in the fields of electrical engineering and computer science. The system uses a numbered reference list and is sometimes referred to as the numbered style. The Author-Year or Author-Date system, which includes different variations of the Harvard System such as the APA style of referencing, is mainly used in the field of psychology and other disciplines in Social Science.

The following are examples of in-text citations and can be further classified into two different types. Work with a partner and see if you can identify the two types. How are they different?

Landmark-based techniques assume that the relevance of the variables to be selected is known in advance, thus limiting the exploratory aspects of data analysis methods and diminishing the robustness of automatic algorithms [1].
Almuallim and Dietterich (1991) introduce MIN-FEATURES (if two functions are consistent with the training examples, prefer the function that involves fewer input features) bias to select features in the FOCUS algorithm. They used synthetic data to study the performance of the FOCUS, ID3, and FRINGE algorithms using sample complexity, coverage, and classification accuracy as performance criteria.
Stievenart et al. [31] also applied FA to study the corpus callosum, a structure composed of axons that connects the two hemispheres of the brain.
The most popular feature selection methods in machine learning literature are variations of sequential forward search (SFS) and sequential backward search (SBS) as described in Devijver and Kittler (1982) and its variants (e.g., Pudil et al., 1994; Quinlan, 1987).

End-text citation, on the other hand, refers to a more comprehensive and detailed list of references that appears at the end of the piece of writing, where all the relevant information about a particular publication is provided.

Let’s explore the two systems and try to develop a general understanding of what referencing entails by looking at two sets of guidelines.

  1. First, read the the CityU library guidelines on referencing. Which system does this illustrate? Next, look at the IEEE style referencing guide at Monash University. What are the major differences between this and the other system? What could be the advantages and disadvantages of both systems?
  2. Using the guidelines mentioned above, complete the end-text referencing task for the APA & the IEEE style below, rearranging the entries inside the text boxes in the appropriate way and deleting the additional information. Please bear in mind, too, that, due to the limitations of web pages, we can unfortunately not italicise book titles.
Type of PublicationIEEE SystemAuthor-Year Style
Journal article, one author
Journal article, several authors
Journal article, several authors
Magazine article
Daily newspaper article, no author specified
Letter to the editor
Encyclopedia article
Article/Chapter in an edited book
Electronic or online journal article

For additional information on different types of documents and practices you may encounter in the field of engineering and computer science, you can also consult the Toronto Engineering Department website.