Understand When Citations are Necessary

Avoid plagiarism and academic dishonesty by understanding when you need to provide citations in your research.

While you may be an unusually bright, innovative thinker, your instructors still expect your research reports to link your insights with those of other scholars. Research involves “listening in” on a scholarly discussion in professional periodicals, books, and reference volumes, and then synthesizing, extending, and connecting what you discover through others’ publications with your own insights.

One of the cornerstones of academic research is the need to acknowledge sources. Researchers and users of research expect you to qualify on whose shoulders you stand. Whose ideas influenced yours?

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

You must acknowledge your indebtedness to other authors throughout your project by following an established method for documenting sources. Each discipline has its own procedures for citing material, which you will need to familiarize yourself with if you hope to be taken seriously as a knowledgeable and competent contributor to your chosen field. Although style guides differ in regard to where the author’s name or publishing source is listed, they are all designed to ensure that proper credit is given to authors. As you know from your experience as a writer, developing insights and conducting original research is difficult and time-consuming, so you can understand why people want to receive proper credit for their original ideas.

Use the following questions to ascertain whether you need to cite sources of information in your work:

  1. Is the information taken directly from another source? Is this information not generally well known? In other words, is this information part of the common domain–i.e., the knowledge, assumptions, and so on that experts in a field already know or assume? Or is this new knowledge, something the author has discovered or developed within his/her writing?
  2. Am I paraphrasing or summarizing someone else’s original thoughts? If you cite three or more words from the original or even one word that was coined by the author, you should acknowledge your indebtedness by placing quotation marks around the borrowed terms.
  3. Will summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting the source add a layer of authority to your interpretation or argument? Perhaps the source is influential, which may sway readers’ opinions regarding the strength of your argument or conclusions.

Whenever you answer yes to any of these questions, then you must document the source. But be careful: Avoid stringing together a list of sources and calling it a research paper. College instructors tend to be very critical of essays that read like laundry lists of loosely tied-together ideas. Connectedness is key; learning how to balance another writer’s words with your own requires patience, practice, and diligence in thinking-through multiple drafts of a document.