When you write a research paper, you have to explain where you found your information. Some of the ideas you use will be your own, but most will have come from information you have read about the topic. To explain where the information comes from, you have to provide (cite) the source.
Why cite your sources
- To give your writing credibility. You show that you have gathered ideas from worthwhile places.
- To help the reader. You enable the reader to go and check and read those sources if he/she so wishes.
- To protect yourself from plagiarism. When you cite all your sources, no one can say that you copied ideas from someone else.
What counts as plagiarism
Concordia University defines plagiarism as:
"The presentation of the work of another person as one's own or without proper acknowledgment"
While many people might think this means outright cheating by copying another student's work, it could just as easily refer to copying anyone’s ideas without saying where they came from. Therefore, you are responsible to respect this rule by citing all your sources.
What counts as other people's ideas or "the work of another person"?
- All words quoted directly from another source
- All ideas paraphrased from a source.
- All ideas borrowed from another source: statistics, graphs, charts.
- All ideas or materials taken from the Internet.
What doesn't count?
- You do not have to cite sources for knowledge that is generally known, like the dates of famous events in history or the names of past Prime Ministers for example. Similarly, phrases like “9/11” or "the generation gap" indicate concepts generally understood by the public.
- Also, within your field, there may be terms which are "common knowledge" because they are part of the knowledge shared by people in that field, like the "Language Experience approach' for educators, or the term "Impressionism" for art students.
- Knowing what to cite /not to cite is also affected by culture. In most academic contexts around the world, readers expect to be told where ideas come from. In some cultures, there may be more shared and collective understanding of certain ideas or even of memorized texts. For example, students may have had to memorize a text as part of the learning in a particular subject. If they were to reproduce that text, they may feel no need to give a source, since everyone who studied there (including the professor) would know who wrote it. In North American acidic writing, however, this is not the case and the reader would expect to be told the author's name.
- When you are using someone else's exact words, you need to place quotation marks (" …..") around the words. You also need to be careful not to rephrase or reorganize these words; otherwise, you would be guilty of misrepresenting that author
- If you want to leave out part of the author's sentence, you can use three ellipsis points (…) to show that words have been omitted. Directly after the quotation, you should indicate where the information comes from, using one of the standard methods (the most frequently used ones are MLA and APA) to document your sources. For more specifics, consult the Concordia University Libraries’ citation guides.
Many students are unclear about what it means to paraphrase. It is not acceptable to take the original phrasing and just rearrange a few of the original words in order to produce a paraphrase; neither is it acceptable to use the same sentence structure but just substitute a few key words.
“Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result, they overuse quotation in the final research paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes” Lester, J. D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed. (1976) 46-47.
Example of an acceptable paraphrase:
In research papers, students often quote excessively, failing to keep quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the material recorded verbatim (Lester, 1976).
Example of what could be interpreted as plagiarized:
Students often use too many direct quotations when they take notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of source material copied while taking notes (Lester, 1976).
When you paraphrase, make sure to understand what the original is saying, then close the book/look away from your computer screen and write the ideas in your own words. Also, note that you need to cite a source for a paraphrase even though you did not quote from the source directly. In the examples above, the source, Lester, is given after the paraphrase. When you are paraphrasing rather than using exact words, mentioning the page number in the source parentheses is optional, but check with your professor as some may prefer you to include it.
These examples of paraphrasing are taken from the handout “Paraphrase – Write it in your own words”. OWL Purdue University Writing Lab.