Citing to Avoid Plagiarism

Citing your sources gives credit to the authors whose ideas you are using in your research. If you use someone else's ideas without citing them, or giving credit, that is called ...


Plagiarism is the act of using another person's ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source. To plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written or thought of something that you have, in fact, borrowed from someone else. The Web makes it more tempting to plagiarize ideas because copying and pasting is so simple. However, the Web also makes it easier for teachers to check for this.

It is illegal, unethical, and if discovered, will result in a loss of credit for the project and perhaps a failure for the course.

Forms of Plagiarism

  • Copying any direct quotation from your source material without providing quotation marks and crediting your source
  • Paraphrasing, or rewriting concepts in your own words and style, without documenting the source of the idea(s)
  • Copying another paper, either from someone else or your own paper from a previous assignment

To avoid plagiarism, know when to cite your sources.

When to Cite Sources

Why You Need to Cite Sources video thumbnail

  • If you quote an author, using his or her exact words, you must tell your reader the origin of the quotation. Be sure to put your quoted text in quotation marks and to record the author's name and the page number.
  • If you restate, as a summary or paraphrase, someone's idea, thesis, theory, or opinion
  • If you use facts that are not common knowledge or known by the average person
  • If you need to provide an informational or explanatory note

    When Citing is Not Necessary

    • If the information is well known or widely known and indisputable, including mathematical and scientific facts.

    Abraham Lincoln authored the Gettysburg Address.

    Hawaii was the 50th state added to the union.

    Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The state bird of Oregon is the western meadowlark.

    • Collectively, these examples are known as common knowledge. You might not have known the fact until you read it during your research, but it could still be considered known and reliable information by the average, educated person. If you are unsure if your information is common knowledge, cite your source.

    Ways Sources are Cited

    The body of the research paper typically uses parenthetical citations which briefly reference the author and page number. This points the reader to the complete list of sources that you used, which you will include at the end of your paper. This list is commonly called a bibliography, works cited, or reference list.

    It is easiest to keep track of the sources from the start. OSLIS' Citation Maker enables a user to create the list of sources in either MLA or APA format by filling out the corresponding template for the type of source used, i.e. website, journal article from a database, eBook, etc. Verify the format style your teacher requires before creating citations. Regardless of format, you will need to record specific information dependent upon the source, like author or website URL. Check Citation Maker or the appropriate handbook for specifics.

    For information about the types of citations and how to create them, see the Create Your Project step.


    Next => Now that you learned about citing sources to avoid plagiarism, it is time to learn about notetaking.

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