Citing Sources and Plagiarism

Many of your college writing projects will involve the use of information from sources other than your own reflections and observations. Whenever you use someone else’s ideas in your writing, you must document the source to give due credit to the original author. In addition, you need to use the accepted documentation style as prescribed by your discipline or course instructor. This section explains plagiarism, how to avoid it, and the common documentation styles required in UMC courses.

What do I need to document?

Every time you use words, phrases, ideas, or information from somewhere other than your own brain, you need to document the original source. The only exception to this rule is “common knowledge” – dates, names, or facts – that can be easily found in multiple reference sources (like encyclopedias).

Ultimately, your goal is to be as honest as possible with your reader; using signal phrases in your writing – “Smith claims…” or “Bradshaw writes…” – show to your reader that you are giving due credit to the original authors. Remember, too, that the goal of both in-text citations and your bibliography is to give the reader enough information to easily find the original source on their own.

For more information on how to incorporate in-text citations into your paper, see the Writing Center’s handouts on paraphrasing and direct quotations. [coming soon]

What are documentation styles?

While the above goals apply to documenting sources across disciplines, different fields have their own methods of documentation. The most widely used documentation style at UMC is APA – a style which is standardized and regulated by the American Psychological Association. APA is widely used in the social sciences, some hard sciences, and some humanities disciplines.

MLA Style (which is standardized and regulated by the Modern Language Association) is common in humanities fields – especially English. CSE Style (regulated by the Council of Science Editors) is commonly used in the hard sciences. ACS (regulated by the American Chemical Society) is also used in the hard sciences – particularly in Chemistry.

You may also have heard of Chicago Style (used in the humanities, especially History) and AP (Associated Press) Style (used in journalism).

Each of these styles has a slightly different format and different guidelines for citing sources. These rules have been refined for decades in order to give the most useful information possible for readers in each field. Moving between styles can be tricky, but remember: following stylistic guidelines is one of the best ways to present yourself as a serious scholar in your field.

How should I gather information for documenting sources?

It’s a good idea to start tracking your sources as soon as you start researching. As you read, highlight or underline relevant sentences, phrases, or words that you might want to quote later. Once you’ve finished reading a source, write down a brief summary of the information it contains in your own words. This will help you later when you need to paraphrase that source.

Once you’ve finished reading through a source, create an entry for it in your bibliography. It is much easier to go back and delete an entry than it is to track down a source that you didn’t bother to record.

Keep track of where information comes from as you write. You don’t want to spend hours looking up page numbers the night before your paper is due, and, even more importantly, you don’t want to accidentally plagiarize by forgetting to cite a source.

Which style should I use?

The style that you use will depend on your discipline and your instructor. Here are some links to help with the most common citation styles:

The Writing Center also has up-to-date copies of all the above style manuals.