Citing Sources

"When do I cite a source?"
"Which Citation Method Should I Use?"
"How Do I Cite Sources?"
"My Instructor warned us against 'Plagiarism' -- what's that and how do I avoid it?"


"When do I cite a source?"
Whenever you include a word, phrase, or idea from a source, it needs to be cited.  That source can include a web page, classroom lecture, an interview with your Uncle Pete, quote or summary from a book, magazine, etc.  And note that I wrote "a" word -- singular.  Even a single word from someone else, when included in your own essay, needs to be set off with quotation marks and then cited.

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"Which Citation Method Should I Use?"
First, you need to ask your instructor which citation method is used in your class. The two most common citation styles are Modern Langague Association, or MLA (used in English, History, Art, and other Humanities courses) and American Psychology Association or  APA (used in Psychology, Sociology, Math, Biology and other Science courses).

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"How Do I Cite Sources?"
Instructions for MLA and APA are included on this site. 

For more complete information on these and other citation methods, go to Purdue's Online Writing lab..

More generally, it's important to learn the distinctions between summary, paraphrase, and direct quote.

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"My Instructor warned us against 'Plagiarism' -- what's that and how do I avoid it?"
Let's start with a basic definition: Plagiarism means taking words or ideas from a source without documenting them.

Words: any words (even one or two) taken from a source and included in your own work need to be in quotation marks and documented. There may exceptions to this (common knowledge), but when in doubt, use quotation marks and document or check with your instructor.

Ideas: when you get an idea from source, be it from an article, lecture, person, etc., it must be documented – even if you put it in your own words (and if you use the same words, they must be in quotation marks).

Source: the person, book, article from which you obtained information.

Documenting: following a particular documentation/citation style such as MLA or APA to let the reader know where you acquired your information.

Avoiding Plagiarism (General)
Question
: “I got a paper off the internet – but I changed it around. That’s okay, right?”
Answer: No. When teachers assign essays, they expect you to complete the work yourself. This would be a form of plagiarism and result in an F for the assignment and possibly for the course.
Solution: Write your own draft.

Question: “I got my best friend/aunt/cousin – who’s an English Major – to help me with my essay. That’s okay, right?”
Answer: Maybe. The problem with this kind of help is that too often it involves your friend/aunt/cousin doing too much of the writing. This could be a form of plagiarism – you’re taking the words and ideas of your friend/aunt/cousin. Since the instructor can’t separate your work from your “helper’s,” the grade is often an F.
Solution: Go to your instructor or one of the college’s tutors for help.

Question: “I borrowed a bit of code from an existing program for a class assignment. That’s okay, right?”
Answer: Probably wrong. Just like writing, computer codes are subject to copyright protection. See above for grade.
Solution: Develop your own code – and check with your instructor.

Question: “In my creative writing/music/art class, I based my project on another story/song/artwork I found – but I pretty much changed it around.”
Answer: Probably wrong. While much art is based on what’s come before it, most class projects involve developing your own work. See above for grade.
Solution: Focus on your own talents – and check with your instructor for specifics.

Citing Sources (specific examples)
Now we get to more specific questions/examples about citing sources and avoiding plagiarism. Below, you’ll see two short paragraphs from Mother Jones magazine, and below that, some questions on how you might use it in an essay. Citations below are in MLA format.

Under a Defense Department policy initiated in 1993, U.S. taxpayers must cover the merger costs for the consolidation of defense corporations. The tally so far has reached $856.2 million, including $405 million for the Lockheed/Martin Marietta merger, to name one example. Because of the policy, Lockheed was able to bill the Pentagon up front for $2.4 million for CEO Norman Augustine's salary.

In 1996 Congress created the Defense Export Loan Guarantee program to finance U.S. weapons sales to foreign countries. Its first beneficiary? A United Industrial sale of pilotless aircraft and training systems to cash-strapped Romania. If Romania defaults on its payments (not a bad bet for a country in economic turmoil), U.S. taxpayers will be left holding the bag: $16.7 million. United Industrial will get paid either way.

"Corporate Welfare." Mother Jones March/April 1999: 15. Print

From student’s essay
Unbelievably, U.S. taxpayers must cover the merger costs for the consolidation of defense corporations.
Question: “I put this sentence in my essay – is this okay?”
Answer: No. You’ve used the exact wording from the source and haven’t documented the source. If done even once, this could result in an F.
Solution: You need to include quotation marks and citation.

From student’s essay
Unbelievably, U.S. taxpayers must cover the merger costs for the consolidation of defense corporations (“Corporate” 15).
Question: “Okay, I added the citation – is this okay?”
Answer: Not yet. Good job of adding the citation, but the reader will think you came up with this wording. If done even once, this could substantially lower your grade.
Solution: You need to include quotation marks.

From student’s essay
Unbelievably, “U.S. taxpayers must cover the merger costs for the consolidation of defense corporations” (“Corporate” 15).
Question: “This is right . . . right?”
Answer: Right. You’ve marked the specific words you’ve taken from your source with quotation marks and have cited it.

From student’s essay
Unbelievably, we have to pay defense companies when they merge.
Question: “Since this is a summary, I don’t need to cite it, right?”
Answer: Wrong. Since you learned of this information from a source, it must be cited. Again, this could substantially lower your grade.
Solution: Add a citation.
Unbelievably, we have to pay defense companies when they merge (“Corporate” 15).

You should now have a basic understanding of what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. For more information refer to the Student Handbook – specifically the “Cheating and Plagiarism Policy” and “Academic Honesty” sections under the heading “Academic Information and Regulations.”

For more detailed information on citing sources, go to either the MLA or APA page on this site.

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