Writing for a general readership does not allow for bibliography and footnotes, but that does not mean that the intention is to dupe or plagiarise
Before writing a column, a writer has to keep some important points in view: purpose, audience, content, source, and presentation of facts. There are various types of columns: opinions, analysis, research, satire, et al. Some columns cover specific topics or types of information which have been published in scientific journals. The motive of sharing such information is to reach a larger, more general audience. There is a section of readers that prefers to read content based on facts to enlarge one’s general knowledge. The columns published in various dailies have a lot of content on various social aspects. In a place like Kashmir, where there are limited platforms for knowledge sharing, along with limited internet connectivity and other constraints, a person who claims to be an educationist/ scholar/ author/ writer/ poet tries to highlight specific issues by writing columns for a general readership. People who have the habit of reading newspapers early in the morning with their breakfast prefer op-eds/ opinions/ scientific information published in the newspaper rather than searching in scholarly journals.
I have recently started writing columns in various newspapers. The motive of writing the articles is to create awareness about the subject I specialise in, that is, food science. It is something which is paid least attention, especially in a place like Kashmir where politics hogs the limelight. This is despite various initiatives from academicians, government, and social organisations to broaden the scope of food safety and public health. Let’s analyse the difference between a “Newspaper article” and one published in a “Scientific journal”.
An editorial or an opinion is a regular column published in newspapers, or any periodical of general interest. It contains the writer’s opinion or viewpoint regarding some issue. It is pertinent to mention here that newspapers are very serious about their ethics and policies. Before sending an article to press, they consider whether the content is in the interest of the public. I’m reminded of the publishing policy of a reputable newspaper which says, “Not all content will be published”. The writer of an opinion piece or a columnist tries to express either his views or to pass on information which may be a literature review or based on facts in the public domain, with due credit to the source of the information and the publisher of the original literature that has been reviewed. Writing a column also gives an opportunity to young and budding writers who intend to take up writing as a career. It is necessary, however, that the subject they write about should be of importance and should not harm any organisation/ individual. A person irrespective of his background is free to write a column and is under no restrictions in writing/ expressing their observation, experience, and knowledge. A writer has to be mentally ready for accepting criticism and likes and dislikes. A person who takes the initiative to write on a particular subject must be having some expertise to present and compile primary/ secondary data, and express it in the form of an article, so that the information given can be simply understood.
In order to compile an article on a particular subject matter, the writer either refers to the information already available in the public domain (which is the case with 95% of the articles published) or consults an expert of the particular field. The reader is free to accept or reject the views/ opinions/ general information published. According to the definition by Thomas G Carpenter Library, “Article can be much shorter than a book; an article can be as short as a paragraph or two or as long as several dozen pages. Articles can be compiled on any of the topics that the author decides to explore and can reflect opinion, news, research, reviews, instruction, nearly any focus”. Articles usually are part of newspapers, magazines, trade publications, research journals, and even academic books. Because of their relative brevity, articles typically are used to provide up-to-date information on a wide variety of topics. Articles based on literature review consist of a survey of previously published or non-published materials that focus on a particular subject. The sole intention of the review article is to identify and express what is already known about the particular topic, so as to provide general information and knowledge. According to Georgia State University Library, newspaper/ magazine articles are meant for a general audience, and are free of technical words/ language and easy to understand for common people. News articles are written by professional journalists/ freelancers/ subject-experts, who may or may not have special knowledge of the topic. The articles are edited by journalists who may or may not have specialised knowledge of the subject. Newspaper articles are not reviewed by subject specialists and do not have a specific format or structure. They certainly do not contain a bibliography or footnotes!
The same source mentioned above states, “Articles in scientific/ scholarly journals are written by professionals in a particular field meant for research scholars. The language of the articles will often contain special or technical words that are used by a scholar of a particular profession that other common people do not understand. Authors are usually experts in a given field and are required to mention credentials and affiliation with the working institute. They are edited by an editorial board consisting of experts in the field. The names, institutional affiliations and credentials of the editorial board are listed within the front of every issue and are subjected to some sort of peer review by outside experts within topic covered by the article before being accepted for publication, and may be returned to the authors for revising of content before being accepted. Research-based articles, especially in science/ health-based journals, may contain the various sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results and conclusions. Articles contain a bibliography of works cited and footnotes documenting the research.”
It is apposite to mention here that just because an article has the word “journal” attached to it in the title, does not mean that it’s a scholarly one! On the other hand, many scholarly journal titles do not contain the word “journal”. A writer may not be expected to be sound with citation, the chances being that s/he may compile and publish information from known sources, i.e., internet, books, magazines, etc, thereby leading to similarities with some other published works, which does not mean copying anyone’s content or plagiarising, but effective utilisation of available information and research in the interest of general audience for knowledge purposes. Unfortunately, there is no such system for newspaper columns wherein we can mention and cite the original authors line by line in prescribed formats. The information in the articles can turn out to be false because of the fact that different sources are involved in compiling and bringing the information in the public domain. A writer or columnist can express opinions on the basis of personal experience, which too can be contested. In general, columnists try to go in the direction of the larger good.
I’m the last person to respond to personal slurs and defamation, but this is to clear a bit of haze created by so-called “scholars” and “well-wishers” who simply wish to derail the efforts that are meant for exploration and expression.
Note: Opinions expressed in this article are based on the writer’s personal experiences, and have nothing to do with the organisation he works for.
The writer is Advisor to Government of Madhya Pradesh, Public Food Systems and Consumers Affairs, AIGGPA, Bhopal. [email protected]