Citing Sources: Using Information Ethically
As described in section 4.0 of the MLA Handbook, "academic writing is a conversation that draws on research about a topic or question." In other words, scholars and researchers build on and respond to the work of others and they acknowledge this earlier work by citing all of their sources.
What is a citation?
Citations acknowledge and clearly identify the sources you used. This is done in the following way:
- Providing citations in your text whenever you use someone else’s words or paraphrase all or a portion of their ideas.
- “Quotation marks” are used when quoting someone else’s exact phrasing, but citations are also required when paraphrasing or when using information (such as an argument, or ideas) obtained from another source.
- In-text citations (parenthetical or numbered notes, depending on the citation style used) are accompanied by a list of all sources cited; this list appears at the end of a paper and, depending on the citation style used, may be titled “References,” “Works Cited,” or “Bibliography.”
There are many important reasons for citing and documenting the sources you use, including:
- To give credit where credit is due (i.e. to acknowledge the work and contributions of others)
- To permit your readers to find the sources you used
- To provide evidence that you have consulted and engaged with relevant scholarship
- To ensure that your reader can distinguish your ideas from those of others
- To avoid charges of plagiarism (more on that below)
How to Cite
Citation styles provide guidelines and instructions for the handling and formatting of citations.
The most commonly used citation styles are APA, MLA and Chicago. Each discipline or area of study has their own conventions when it comes to citations and citation guidelines. For example, APA is the standard format used in Psychology. Disciplines such as English and Drama use MLA. Chicago is used by some disciplines in the Social Sciences. Some disciplines use a different set of guidelines (something other than APA, MLA or Chicago).
Your professors will guide you to the citation style used in each of your courses. If you're ever unsure about which citation style to use, ask your professor or a librarian.
You can find guides (with examples and sample citations) to the APA, MLA and Chicago Citation Styles on the library's Citation Guides page.
Copies of the APA Manual, MLA Handbook and Chicago Manual of Style are available in the library and the MLA Handbook and Chicago Manual of Style are also available as ebooks. Access details can be found on the APA, MLA and Chicago Style Guide pages.
Plagiarism: What It Is and How To Avoid It
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is cheating. It is a serious academic offence punishable according to the regulations of the Academic Integrity Policy and can lead to a failing grade in the course and even expulsion. Knowing how to avoid plagiarism is an important part of academic work.
Here are a few examples:
- Submitting as your own work a paper written by someone else
- Using someone else's ideas or expressions as your own, without acknowledging the source
- Failure to give appropriate acknowledgement (citations) when repeating, paraphrasing, quoting or referring to another person’s wording, argument or ideas
It is also possible to plagiarize yourself. Examples of self-plagiarism can include:
- Submitting a paper you have used for a previous assignment or in a different course
- Submitting a paper that includes part of a previous paper you have submitted in the same or different course
Avoiding Plagiarism: A Few Tips
- Provide a citation whenever you use someone else’s words or paraphrase all or a portion of their ideas.
- When using someone else's exact words use quotation marks (or indent long passages) and identify the source.
- To avoid accidental plagiarism, don't wait until you have written the final draft of your paper to add the citation information -- when taking notes or writing drafts, document your sources carefully.
- In your notes and drafts, make clear distinctions between your ideas and words and ideas and words obtained from another source.
- Make sure you have the information you need for a complete citation.
- Factor in to your work schedule the time it takes to carefully format your paper according to the citation style required by your professor.
Have questions or need help?
Ask a Librarian -- you can find all of the different ways to reach us on the Research Help page.