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What is an attribution and do I have to?

Connie Jo Miller, founder, and president of Enigma Bookkeeping Solutions asked, “Some of my blog ideas come from other things I have read or heard. Should I try to source the idea? Most of the time I’m not sure where I read or heard something and I feel bad/guilty because the spark for the blog came from somewhere I can’t put my finger on. Content is original, but not all the ideas.”

It’s been said that there are only seven stories in the world and all others are derived from one of them. Even Kurt Vonnegut believed in this theory (click the link to watch his hilarious lecture).

Stories, even true ones, originated somewhere. So it gets tricky when one thinks about attribution.

What is an attribution?

Attribution gives stories credibility and perspective. It tells readers how we know what we know. It also slows stories down. Effective use of attribution is a matter both of journalism ethics and of strong writing.
The Copyright Act, 2005 provides perpetual moral rights. The moral rights are for proper attribution and against any distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work where that act would be or is prejudicial to the reputation of the author or where the work is discredited by the act.

What do I need to attribute?

It would be virtually impossible to source every idea which leads to a blog post or social media share (and who has that kind of time!). That being said, I do believe in giving credit where credit is due. Unlike footnotes or endnotes found in a research paper, you show source attributions by linking to the original material.

Here are a few simple guidelines:

  • When you directly quote someone, link to where you read the quote (or to the book or video). Google is very useful in finding original material.
  • If you get an idea from another person’s blog, even if your content is original, backlink to their blog — not only is this good practice, but you may get a few new readers as a result.
  • Always provide a photo credit attribution, even if the photos purchased. For more information on photos, read this post.
  • When it doubt, fall back on the adage, “Do your best.”

Oxford University Press provides journalistic definitions, some of which are:

  • “On-the-record” attribution means that everything the source says may be published and quoted directly, and the source may be fully identified by name and title.
  • “On background,” which is sometimes referred to as “not for attribution,” means the reporter may quote the source directly but may not attribute the statements to the source by name. When reporters use on-background information, they try to describe the source as fully as possible.
  • “Off the record” is the final level of attribution. It generally means a source’s information cannot be used, but that is often misunderstood. Some people say they are speaking off the record when they really mean they are speaking on background.

I’m surmising, Connie, that your (and most of our) blog post’s source material might be considered “on background.” Hope this helps! Thanks again for asking such great questions.

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