If you use outside sources, be sure to acknowledge them.
Many students find citing sources one of the most challenging
aspects of writing a research paper. Documenting where you
obtained information for your paper serves three important
- Citations prevent allegations of plagiarism
Plagiarism occurs when you present the facts, words, or
ideas of someone else as your own. Students often find it
difficult to believe that copying something out of The
World Book for a term paper can be considered a crime,
but plagiarism has serious consequences. In many colleges,
students who submit a plagiarized paper will automatically
fail the course. In some schools, students will be expelled.
Outside of academics, plagiarism has ruined the careers
of politicians, artists, and executives. Prominent columnists
and writers have been fired from newspapers and magazines
for using the ideas of others without acknowledging their
original source. Hollywood studios have been sued by artists
who claim ideas from their rejected screenplays were used
in other films.
Accurate documentation protects you from plagiarism
by clearly labeling borrowed ideas.
- Citations support your thesis
Attorneys arguing a case before a judge or jury present
labeled exhibits to prove their theory of a case. As a researcher,
you support your thesis by introducing expert testimony,
facts, case histories, and eyewitness accounts. Like an
attorney, you have to clearly identify the source for evidence
for it to be credible. A paper about crime that draws upon
statistics from the FBI and studies from the Justice Department
will be more credible than one relying only on personal
observations and opinions.
The more controversial your thesis, the more readers
will demand supporting evidence.
- Citations refer readers to other sources
Citations not only illustrate which ideas originated with
the writer and which were drawn from other sources, they
alert readers where they can find more information. Through
your citations, readers may learn of a biography or a website
offering additional evidence.
You do not need to use citations for every fact, quotation,
or idea you present:
- Common expressions or famous quotations
Famous sayings by Shakespeare, Jesus, or Benjamin Franklin
such as "To err is human" or "I am the resurrection"
do not have to be cited, even when presented as direct quotes.
- Facts considered in the "realm of common
You do not have to provide a citation if you referred to
a source to check a fact that is readily available in numerous
sources. You do not have to cite The Encyclopedia Britannica
if you used it to find out where Arthur Miller was born
or when North Dakota became a state. No one will accuse
you of stealing facts that are commonly known, not subject
to change, or interpretation.
In almost every other instance, however, you have to acknowledge
the use of outside material:
- Direct quotations
Whenever you quote a source word for word, you must place
it in quotation marks and cite its source.
- Indirect quotations or paraphrases
Even if you do not copy a source but state the authors
ideas in your own words, you must cite the source. Changing
a few words or summarizing a page of text into a few sentences
does not alter the fact that you are using someone elses
- Specific facts, statistics, and numbers
Data will only be credible and acceptable if you present
the source. If you state, "Last year, 54,450 drunk
drivers were arrested in California" readers will naturally
wonder where you obtained that number. Statistics only make
credible evidence if readers trust their source.
- Graphs, charts, and other visual aids
Indicate the source of any graphic you reproduce.
You must also cite the source for information you use
to create a visual display.
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Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark