Submitted by isaac  •  May 1, 2006

Using [sic]

I am a student working on a thesis in anthropology and I am quoting one of my informants. In his quote, he says “United States Geological Service.” I know that it’s “United States Geological SURVEY,” not “service.” Should I put [sic] after the word “service” in the quote? Is it obnoxious to do that? Is it necessary?

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By using '[sic]' in this context, you absolve yourself of blame for the error - it lets your readers know that the error is in your source material, and hasn't been introduced by you. I would put it in, particularly in a thesis.

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This question is really funny to me, not because it is a silly question, but because it is actually a legitimate question. It seems like a double-bind situation where you are screwed either way.

Personally, I would correct his mistake, and leave it at that. If you feel that this may cause some sort of problem, I would add a footnote explaining that what he actually said was “service”. This way, you would not have to draw too much attention to this minor issue. If you don’t correct his mistake, and if you don’t insert [sic], people who know that it should be “survey” would get confused. If you do insert [sic], it draws too much attention to it, and would potentially embarrass this person.

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If you prefer to correct the quote, I believe the correct way to do it is to use: "Blah blah blah... [the United States Geological Survey] ... blah blah blah" isn't it? You remove the incorrect part and then put the correction in square brackets to show that it is editorial.

I quite like the footnote idea too, but I don't think it follows the correct format and for a thesis you should really follow the etiquette of these things accurately.

A

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Put the SIC in! In another context, it might come off as pretentious, but this is a thesis.

In my opinion, the SIC is sufficient, without a footnote or explanation.

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Use [sic]. Anyone reading your thesis will certainly understand exactly what the source was trying to say, will further understand that you are smart enough to catch the mistake, and most importantly is probably so used to seeing [sic] in scholarship that s/he would hardly notice it. Like Dave said, in another context it might be pretentious, but in a thesis I don't think that's an issue.

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I don't think the issue is really whether [sic] is pretentious, but rather two things:

1) Whether it's as informative to the reader as correcting the mistake would be, and
2) Whether it's unkind to the informant (who presumably is not also an academic--academics are habitually unkind to each other and expect it).

I think the answer to 1 is "no", and the answer to 2 is murky enough that it's better to be on the safe side. Unless his/her use of "service" is actually important, I'd just fix the quote using brackets:

"I don't like the United States Geological [Survey]."

I believe brackets used this way obviate the need for elipses; you don't need to say

"I don't like the United States Geological... [Survey],"

because brackets can indicate either an addition or a replacement.

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Clearly you have a dilemma. Since you are writing in a formal/academic environment, you certainly would want to make some kind of correction lest you are perceived to be in error yourself.

Using sic rather than changing the quote certainly would be the academically correct thing to do, but you are worried about possibly offending your informant.

I think I have the perfect solution for you. Consider this:

If you had quoted some government report, or some book by a noted author you did not know personally, you certainly would not worry about offending them. You would just use sic and probably even be proud of it.

I can only assume this informant is someone you had personal contact with, otherwise you wouldn't worry about offending them, so here's what I suggest:

Contact the informant again and politely ask if he was referring to "survey" rather than "service" (if you need to be really diplomatic you could even let him save face by suggesting that you may have made a mistake in your notes and that you wanted to check with him again).

After you clear it up with him, simply use "survey" without using sic or any footnotes, etc. The difference is, once you speak to the informant and clear things up, you would actually be quoting him correctly by using "survey". There's no longer any risk of academic dishonesty (however slight), since he actually did say "survey" the second time!!

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Or you could put the sic in after every sentence in your paper and absolve yourself from all blame whatsoever! Im joking, but still...

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I would favor either the solution offered by Avrom (bracketing) or simply correcting the error. The error is what linguists call a "contextual substitution error". The substituted word -- or arguably, syllable -- is similar to the target word: both are two-syllable words that begin with the phoneme "sur". This kind of a slip-of-the-tongue doesn't warrant the use of "[sic]" in my view. Seamless readability should be the goal.

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Isaac:

By now you have most likely finished your thesis. Therefore, my suggestions are an afterthought. Although, you may consider using this advice for later writings. However, other students reading this may learn from it.

The very word "academic" requires that any thesis or dissertation be of excellence. If your professor doesn't demand excellence, then get your money back and go to a more qualified school. :-)

In a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, always:

(1) Use "[sic]" in a quote if it is not your mistake. Furthermore, the word "sic" should be italicized within the brackets. If you have to use "[sic]" in several quotes throughout your paper, then the authors of those works should not be used for academic papers. You should limit your usuage of "[sic]"; however, it is not obnoxious in such papers.

(2) Forget any advice that suggests you change the word in the author's quote. In academia, this is plagiarism. And, you are liable for misquoting another's work. Regardless, if it is a simple mistake or a big one, leave his quote "as is," then use the "[sic]".

(3) Forget about embarrassing the quoted author. Most writers would be saddened by such a simple mistake, but they will appreciate that the student caught it. So, ignore such advice. It has no room in academia. (Political Correctness (PC) should be left to the politicians. Even then, PC is deceptive and should never be used.) In academic papers, state and defend your position. Don't be worried about "offending" someone else.

Isaac: Remember, this is your thesis, and it will reflect on your knowledge and abilities way after your schooling ends. Excellence now, brings about excellence later.

A.A. Bernal

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By the way, A.A. Bernal, your are quite mistaken. Changing an author's quote is NOT plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing off the work of another as one's own, without giving proper credit to the actual author. It has nothing at all to do with the accuracy of properly acknowledged quoting.

And Avrom, sorry, but you have found another of my pet peeves. "...obviate the need for..." is improperly redundant. The word "obviate" means to make unnecessary, or "to eliminate the need for" (it does not mean simply "to eliminate"). So, when you say "...obviate the need for...", you are actually saying "...eliminate the need for the need for..."

Your sentence should have read either "I believe brackets used this way obviate elipses" or "I believe brackets used this way eliminate the need for elipses".

I have noticed that doctors are particularly fond of misusing the word in this manner. Medical literature is rife with the expression. As most doctors I have met are incredibly pompous, immodest, and self-absorbed, I have suspected that the expression may have originated as a form of self-exhaltation. Something like, "I'm using this big word that I think you don't understand so while I'm using it, I'm going to also state its definition as a way of letting you know how smart I am and how smart I think you're not, regardless of the fact that in so doing I have mis-used it"

Last, back to you, Bernal, your suggestion not to worry about embarassing the author, sounds noble, but I think it's a little naive. Academia is riddled with politics, more so than probably any other endeavor on the planet. The pure and impartial intellectualism you are describing doesn't really exist in our higher institutions. The fact that Isaac is concerned about offending probably means that he should be concerned, that is, if the author is someone he has direct personal contact with.

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...someone, not sure who, once said something like "the politics in academia are so brutal because the rewards are so small".

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Anonymous, in a speech given on September 11, 1997, Henry Kissinger said: "I formulated the rule that the intensity of academic politics and the bitterness of it is in inverse proportion to the importance of the subject their [sic] discussing. And I promise you at Harvard, they are passionately intense and the subjects are extremely unimportant." This quote is similar to the one you noted. And the "their" in the quote is thought to be a transcription error, hence the use of "sic." :)

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Indeed, it has been some time since I completed and turned in that thesis, and then graduated, did some other stuff, and then re-entered the Wide World of Academia (this time in the sciences). In the end, I quoted my informant: "United States Geological Service [sic]." Of all the decisions I made about what to include in the paper, the word "sic" did not rank very high on the list of important issues to consider, but since we're still talking about it, I'll say why:

To Porsche,
I liked your idea of just contacting my informant and double checking to get a quotation that was both legitimate AND correct, but I didn't do so. He's a busy guy and the last thing he really needs is some college student pestering him about whether he said "service" or "survey." Calling him would have involved a lot of message-leaving and other such telephone antics that were simply not worth the trouble on my part or his. So that left me with either changing the quotation or using "sic."

To Bismarck,
You are absolutely right. Seamless readability is definitely the goal and for this reason I was hesitant to poke my paper with pompous Latin thorns such as "sic." In fact, having read your post, I figured, 'Bismarck's right. I'll just quote my informant exactly and leave it at that.' But when I re-read that paragraph, the word "service" in place of "survey" actually managed to bug me enough to "do something about it." Maybe that's just because it was my own paper. But "sic," though it bugged me, bugged me less than "service."

To A. A. Bernal,
I thank you for your pointers and suggestions. Having moved on from anthropology to the sciences, good academic form will become even more strict, I suspect. It seems to me, though, that you had the wrong impression about my informant. He was not an author by any stretch of the imagination. As has been pointed out in this thread, I probably would have even taken some pleasure in pointing out the error of an author! But my source material, in this case, was an interview with an individual whom I came to respect for his thoroughness and attention to detail in what he does, which, of course, is completely unacademic.

At any rate, I think the issue of offending my informant had become irrelevant. At the interviews, I offered all of my informants a copy of the thesis. Some were interested and accepted this offer. This particular informant, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less. Even if he weren't the thick-skinned fellow that he is, he wouldn't even see the paper anyway. And if he had a copy of it, I doubt he'd waste his time reading it!

Thanks to all for the suggestions.

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To A. A. Bernal:

I happened on this site, and when reading your response to Isaac, I read a sentence with what I, as an English instructor. would call a major error--a fragment. In the second sentence of your first paragraph, you write, "Although, you may consider using this advice for later writings."

"Although" is a subordinating conjunction. It starts a subordinating clause or, in other terms, a fragment. It does not function as you use it, as a conjunctive adverb or transition, and it should not have a comma following it.

Given your other comments, I thought you would be interested in knowing this.

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first off, i did not read any other comments, i just quickly had to write this;

i have read many quotations in several books that had to be, so to speak, "rewritten" as to match recent adaptations to language/terms/accronyms(/tense in some cases, but i personally do not know how to use it with conflicting tenses - as some rarer ([sic] ?)* situations might call for - but hey, i'm not an english major) all i do know is that if you're adapting a quotation to match-up your writings grammatically, you can simply use brackets around the areas you had to omit and change

*i know that you should use brackets around wording that's supposed to be parrenthesized [sic] inside parenthesis, but i just didn't know what to do in that situation... so ya... there's the asterisk expaining my idiocies (is that the right spelling?)

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hello webmaster/webmistree Can you provide more information on this? i sometimes read other websites that are on very similar subjects.

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Great stuff. Nice to read some well written posts. A long way between them.

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I am working with an international client who is writing a manuscript in English, his second language. While I can freely edit his parts of the text, it becomes thornier when he uses (incorrect) excerpts from other authors who are second language writers. I first mentioned to him the use of [sic], but this could get repetitive in some (non-native) texts that are as long as a paragraph. I liked Avrom's suggestion. It allows the full manuscript to read cleanly while only slightly calling attention to the error(s). Thanks, all. Great discussion!

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@Sandy:

I understand that this comment is over 2.5 years late, but I wanted to congratulate you for finding the dreadfully repugnant error that A.A. Bernal committed in their knee-jerk reaction of a reponse. Had I your address, a "thank you" cake would be delivered posthaste.

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There are times when this cannot be avoided, but they are rare. About the only time I have actually used it is in undergraduate essays where some instructors insist on both absolutely correct grammar and exact quotation--and it is important the instructor not think I made the mistake. Usually the fact that the error appears in a direct quote should be enough to exonerate one. Also,it is a bit much to point out someone else's error, and there is always the possibility that it is not really an error.

Of course, there are times when the error is the reason for the quote, and I guess if one really wants to dig the hole even deeper, a "sic" in brackets can help.

There have been a few occasions where I have thought about using the device as a way of telling the reader, "Yes, the guy really did say that," but I think that when I want to say such a thing, actually saying it is better than any sophisticated Latin.

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Sandy, shut the hell up and stop hating on a.a. bernal. He made a mistake probably rushed through the editing. You made that comment out of spite, not concern, so bah on you. I am rushing to post this myself and my keyboard keys are sticking, so I will probably have a few errors in this. Don't waste your time correcting me, as I will be long gone.

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