Developing good academic practice
Developing good academic practice

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Developing good academic practice

4.2.2 Health and Social Care

If you’re writing your assessment, in whatever form, you are expected to make clear where the information you have used came from. This is usually done through a reference: that is, citing the place where you found that information. Otherwise, the reader can reasonably be expected to believe that you generated the information or evidence yourself. This is why universities put so much emphasis on accurate referencing and warn you about the dangers of plagiarism.

The only exception to this rule is if you are saying something so well known that people could reasonably be expected to know it and to know straight away that you have not discovered it yourself. Here are some examples:

  • The National Health Service was established in 1948.
  • Obesity is a medical term describing a condition in which a person’s body mass index (BMI) exceeds the recommended level for someone of their height and weight.
  • Social workers work with a range of clients.
  • Disability is used as a general term to describe a physical or sensory impairment or a learning disability.

This is what is meant by common knowledge. Common knowledge in Health and Social Care is something that is so well known that it’s obvious to you and your readers.

Once you begin to dig more deeply into issues, however, you quickly get beyond common knowledge. Take the example of disability. Disability is not a neutral term and there are fierce debates about how far disability is socially constructed or a matter for the individual. For example, someone with a physical condition – such as one requiring them to use a wheelchair – could be seen as disabled either by their condition or by a society that caters mainly for its able-bodied citizens. Someone with an invisible condition like diabetes may or may not see themselves as disabled. Now, the moment you start entering into a debate such as this you must use references to make clear that you are not the originator of these ideas.

Consider obesity as well. There is currently a lot of concern about obesity and about the growing numbers of children and adults in the UK, the rest of Europe and the USA who are very overweight and diagnosed as obese in medical terms through use of the body mass index. However, there are once again debates about what all this really means. Questions have been raised about the relevance of the BMI as a measure of obesity as it does not distinguish between fat and muscle; so, for example, many athletes have a high BMI. Questions have also been raised about whether using the term ‘obesity’ stigmatises people who are overweight; i.e. labels them as blameworthy and turns them into patients. Is obesity really a disease? Or is it one of a number of risk factors that may make people more susceptible to conditions such as diabetes or coronary heart disease? Are we focusing too much on reducing weight in individuals and making them feel to blame, rather than tackling environmental causes of obesity, such as over-reliance on motorised transport, manufacture of highly processed foods and lack of safe places to play? As you can see, once you start to repeat such statements or questions you need to use references to acknowledge the writers and researchers who generated these ideas.

So, when you are investigating those differing perspectives you need to start referencing. The more you investigate an issue, the more likely it is that you will realise that what you thought was common knowledge is beginning to be questionable.

This brings you into the territory of academic judgement, when you go beyond common knowledge and recognise that not everybody will agree with what you are saying, or that what you are saying is drawn from the judgement and research of other people. As we have noted already, when you use the judgements or the conclusions of other people you have to start referencing otherwise you get into the realm of plagiarism. You need to say who the individual is, not just: ‘some researchers say this’, or ‘some psychologists say that’. You need to identify who these writers are. If you found their ideas in a textbook or in the course materials you need to reference those works and make clear that you found the writers’ ideas in there. Otherwise things are left unclear. Tutors who are marking your work don’t know who you are talking about or may not be sure that you really know where the information came from. So when you get beyond common knowledge you must reference.

Listed below are some statements. Are they common knowledge?

Statement 1

Obesity was first classified as a disease in 1985: Yes/No

Answer

Yes

It is a fact that is in the public domain and does not need a reference to support it. There are debates about whether the medical profession was right to classify obesity as a disease but no debates about the fact that it was done.

No

There aren’t any arguments for using a reference. This is a clear cut case of common knowledge.

Statement 2

Body Mass Index (BMI) is an accepted measure for calculating obesity: Yes/No

Answer

Yes

You might argue that BMI is a medical measure that is widely used and accepted by doctors. However, there are fierce debates about the measure itself so referencing is advised.

No

Use a reference. BMI may be widely used but it is the subject of ongoing debate. For example, critics claim that it does not distinguish between fat and muscle and is therefore an inaccurate measure of obesity. Interpretations of the data vary considerably in assessing what constitutes a ‘dangerous’ BMI.

Statement 3

Sir Douglas Black’s Report on Inequalities in Health was published in 1980 but very few copies were printed: Yes/No

Answer

Yes

This is a fact that is not contested and has been known since the date of publication.

No

There aren’t any arguments for using a reference. This is a clear cut case of common knowledge.

Statement 4

Sir Douglas Black’s Report on Inequalities in Health (1980) was one of the most significant reviews of health in the twentieth century: Yes/No

Answer

Yes

This is probably common knowledge. It is well known and accepted by anyone with an interest in studying health, though it is unlikely to be known by the general public. Even if people disagree about the report itself they would agree that it had a considerable impact. Besides, it is only saying ‘one of the most significant reviews’ so you don’t have to prove that it is the most important.

No

It could be argued that the political right did not see the report as significant because it did not agree with any of the report’s recommendations, even banishing the term ‘inequalities’ and replacing it with ‘variations’. However, doing that indicates the power of the report and how significant it was in shaping policy in the twentieth century. This statement just about counts as common knowledge but might be worth referencing.

Statement 5

Sir Douglas Black’s Report on Inequalities in Health (1980) was the most important review of health inequalities in the twentieth century: Yes/No

Answer

Yes

The Black Report found there were steep social class gradients in health in the UK, with the lowest socio-economic groups having much worse life expectancy and health than the highest socio-economic groups. The majority of researchers would probably agree with the statement because of the influence the report has had in shaping policy since its publication, firstly in trying to dismiss Black’s findings and then in trying to reverse the social class gradients. But only the majority so a reference is clearly needed.

No

Some researchers would vehemently disagree and claim that social class gradients in health are artefacts of the way social class and health are measured. In any case, this is an area of debate and will probably become so again with the publication of the Marmot Report (2010) on health inequalities. So the statement definitely doesn’t count as common knowledge and needs a full reference.

 

Marmot, M., Allen, J., Goldblatt, P., Boyce, T., McNeish, D., Grady, M. and Geddes, I. (2010) Fair Society, Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review A Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England Post-2010, London, The Marmot Review, University College London; also available online at www.ucl.ac.uk/ marmotreview [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Accessed 21 May 2010).

DGAP_1

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