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Citing Sources & Avoiding Plagiarism

How to avoid plagiarism and cite sources correctly.

When to Cite

When doing your research, anytime you use words or ideas from another source, you need to cite that source. That means you need to cite even when you are not directly quoting the source.

When you read a paragraph in a source, filter those ideas through your own understanding, then summarize them in your own words, you are paraphrasing that person's work. To correctly cite a paraphrase, use an in-text citation (see definitions below) and a full citation in the works cited page.

Borrowed facts are a lot like paraphrasing, but they generally encompass the ideas from a large section of the text instead of a specific paragraph. This information also needs to be cited at least every few sentences with an in-text citation and in the works cited.

Common knowledge, information your readers are expected to already know, does not need to be cited. However, determining what concepts are common knowledge can be tricky, so don't be afraid to cite the information if you're not sure. It's better to be safe than sorry!

Direct Quote vs. Paraphrase vs. Common Knowledge

Direct Quote

Word for word use of someone’s work.

Citation must be in quotation marks and cited immediately afterward and in the works cited.

 

Paraphrase

A summary or partial use of someone’s work.

Use introductory phrases when possible.

Use parenthetical reference and cite in works cited.

 

Borrowed Facts

Information from a source that is not common knowledge.

Use at least one citation for every several sentences and acknowledge in the works cited.

 

 

Common Knowledge

Anything people are expected to already understand; often found in many sources.

No citation is necessary.

 

Example

What follows is an example of how a scholar might cite a paragraph of text in several ways. Please keep in mind that the citation style used here is MLA, so there may be minor changes if you are using a different citation style.

Biographers have always recognized the Alto Rhapsody to be one of Brahms’s most personal works; indeed, both the composer and Clara Schumann left several unusually specific comments that suggest that this poignant setting of Goethe’s text about a lonely, embittered man had a particular significance for Brahms.

Reynolds, Christopher. "Brahms Rhapsodizing: The Alto Rhapsody And Its Expressive Double." Journal Of Musicology 29.2 (2012): 191-235. Music Index. Web. 18 Jan. 2013.

Direct Quote

“Both [Brahms] and Clara Schumann left several unusually specific comments that suggest that this poignant setting of Goethe’s text about a lonely, embittered man had a particular significance for Brahms” (Reynolds, 191).

      In bibliography:

Reynolds, Christopher. "Brahms Rhapsodizing: The Alto Rhapsody And Its Expressive Double." Journal Of Musicology 29.2 (2012): 191-235. Music Index.  Web. 18 Jan. 2013.

Paraphrase

Biographers have found several comments in the writings of Brahms that suggest that the “Alto Rhapsody” had special significance for the composer (Reynolds, 191).

      In bibliography:

Reynolds, Christopher. "Brahms Rhapsodizing: The Alto Rhapsody And Its Expressive Double." Journal Of Musicology 29.2 (2012): 191-235. Music Index.  Web. 18 Jan. 2013.

Borrowed Information

The “Alto Rhapsody” by Brahms is set to text by Goethe about a lonely man.

      In bibliography:

Reynolds, Christopher. "Brahms Rhapsodizing: The Alto Rhapsody And Its Expressive Double." Journal Of Musicology 29.2 (2012): 191-235. Music Index.  Web. 18 Jan. 2013.

Common Knowledge

For Brahms, the “Alto Rhapsody” is a very personal work.