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  Home > InfoWrite > Research and the Research Paper > Crediting Sources

InfoTrac College Edition

Crediting Sources

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 purposes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Facts considered in the "realm of common knowledge"
    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:

  1. Direct quotations
    Whenever you quote a source word for word, you must place it in quotation marks and cite its source.
  2. Indirect quotations or paraphrases
    Even if you do not copy a source but state the author’s 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 else’s ideas.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.