I have to start this post with a quote from an online article from Contracting for Business titled Even Accidental Plagiarism Can Cost You. Authors C. Greer and M. Michel say,

“With the Internet, plagiarism is on the rise. In the HVAC industry, plagiarism is rampant.”

The authors could have substituted “business” for “HVAC”, and they would have made the point of my post.

First, I’ll admit that I’m smiling at the irony of starting a post about citation with a citation. Second, I’ll warn that plagiarism is not a problem of high school and college students, it is intellectual property theft, and is legally actionable in many cases.

Enough with the gloom and doom. I’ll address the protection aspect of citing sources, but there are four other compelling reasons you should ask your trainees to cite their sources that are aspirational.

Let’s face it. Sometimes our trainees are experienced professionals who have worked in the industry for decades. They’ll make the argument, in the course of their training, that citing their research is unnecessary. As trainers and educators we’re aware of the common reasons to cite research in our business plans, blog posts, newsletters, reports, and speeches:

  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Trace back the source of the material
  • Show evidence of research
  • Avoid plagiarism

In the workplace, the rationale above feels theoretical. Early through late career trainees might ask, “What’s in it for me?” In fact, I believe students of all kinds should ask this question, and as trainers, we should be poised with the most appropriate answer.

I’ll re-frame the academic rationale into 5 Reasons Trainees Should WANT to Cite their Research to help you, the trainer, coach them in the professional environment.

“You play like you practice.”

Reason #1: Integrity

Quick. What’s the first thought comes to your mind when you find out someone has used another person’s ideas and passed them off as their own? Lazy? Unethical? Incompetent? In my almost ten years of teaching far more students plagiarized unintentionally. They were not lazy, unethical, or incompetent. They were uninformed. Do you see the perception problem?

The first reason trainees should want to cite their sources is to show their integrity. By using research and citing the source, trainees might inspire comments like this:

“They’ve really done their homework.”

“I can trust and share ideas with them.”

The volume of information at our fingertips can present challenges when we cite sources. We’re out of practice, and we’re not using books like we did in school.

If you need a refresher on citing modern sources, start with this article from HubSpot.com titled How Not to Steal People’s Content on the Web.

Reason #2: Credibility

As professionals, we’ve amassed considerable experience in our fields. When we combine our experience with support from thought leaders, those of us who do nothing but think and write about a narrow topic, suddenly our conversations reach a new level of credibility.

Trainees can move their conversations with upper management from,

“This is what’s happening and in my experience…” to

“Here’s what I’ve observed in our company and industry best-practices show…”

I feel the boardroom “cred” rising, don’t you?

Reason #3: Branding

I’m not talking about how your trainees dress or when they arrive for work, although these are elements of the personal brand. I’m talking about the concept first proposed by Seth Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Here’s a quote published on Goodreads.com,

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

When a business professional uses and cites research support, they are establishing their tribe. Trainers, managers, and teams, we all get a sense of the person’s go-to resources in their “tribe.” Choosing your sources carefully, then, is as important as citing them.

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) is one of my favorite sources to teach trainees to evaluate their sources before they use them.

Reason #4: Transparency

I grit my teeth every time I read a sentence that starts with, “Sources say…” I would bet the phrase raises red flags for your trainee’s managers, too. Citing sources allows business professional to not only say, “I’ve done my homework,” but, “I stand behind my work.” When courting transparency in business communications, you’ll also strengthen the benefits from reasons 1-3 in this post.

Reason #5: Protection

We have to do it. We have to talk about citing sources for protection. As professionals, it’s not only our reputations that are at stake, but that of our teams, our companies, and our industries. The fact of the matter is allowing others to believe someone’s idea is your own is theft. In a world where knowledge is power, it is also fiercely protected.

I love the straightforward content and style from the contractingbusiness.com article, so I’m going to use it again to define plagiarism for professionals.

“Plagiarism is the theft of intellectual property. It’s far worse than downloading pirated music off a file sharing service. Plagiarism is more like downloading the music, claiming you wrote and performed it, and publishing and/or selling it.” Even Accidental Plagiarism Can Cost You

You’ll notice that each of the reasons above are qualities that can further a trainee’s career. If that doesn’t answer, “What’s in it for me?” I don’t know what does.

Your trainees may be thinking back to their research paper days and wonder, “Where will I need to worry about plagiarism?”

Here are a few examples of areas where plagiarism is rampant in business:

  • Business plans
  • Presentations
  • Newsletters
  • Blog posts
  • Press Releases
  • Web copy
  • Online articles
  • White papers/reports
  • Social media posts
  • Image use

There’s a phrase my kids learned from their lacrosse coaches that is relevant to trainers like us. “You play like you practice.”

When you ask trainees to submit work from their development courses or experiences. Ask them to use research support and cite it. The way they practice with you will shape the way they play as they progress through their careers.

What are your favorite pieces of advice or go-to sources? Please share them in the comments and let’s learn together.


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