When & Why Do I Cite?

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What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism happens when someone tries to present another person’s ideas or words as their own. In other words, taking credit for another’s thoughts and quotes.

Understand the Consequences

Okay, we are going to get serious here for a minute. Failing to cite your sources equates to plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious thing that is totally, completely, 100% preventable. You just need to give credit where credit is due. People do not always give credit for their research, though, and it can get them in a lot of trouble. You can sometimes receive detention or a failing grade.

When Do I Cite?: Direct Quotes

If you choose to use a direct quote, make sure you place quotation marks (these: “”) around it and include a citation (either in Chicago-format footnotes or in APA or MLA-format parenthetical citations).

This shows that you are using someone else’s words to strengthen your paper, which is okay, as long as you properly quote and cite it!

You are using a direct quote in your paper if you are taking someone’s exact words and putting them into your paper. If you have too many direct quotes in your paper, your style may seem a little choppy. Try to paraphrase when possible!

Effective Paraphrasing

When you are writing a research project, most of the ideas you come across during your research, and use to support your research, should be put into your own words. This is also known as paraphrasing.

An effective paraphrase contains the same idea, concept, and tone as the original source, but must be written originally by you.

When you are using other people’s ideas in your research, you must cite them! Even if you put them in your own words.

Example of a Poorly-Worded Paraphrase

Original Quote:

“There is historic justice in trying to rectify a crime committed a half-century ago that galvanized the architectural preservation movement.”

Kimmelman, Michael. “Restore a Gateway to Dignity. A Proposal to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.” The New York Times, 8 Feb. 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/arts/design/a-proposal-for-penn-station-and-madison-square-garden.html.

Example of a BAD PARAPHRASE:

History will be made right, but only if an effort is made to remedy the devastation that happened 50 years ago (and sparked the architectural preservation movement).

The sentence structure is essentially the same, and while the words are different and this was not pulled directly out of the article, it is obvious this was copied from the idea of the author and is not cited. This is plagiarism.

Other Examples of Plagiarism

Here are some other ways that people plagiarize:

  • Providing false or incorrect information about the source
  • Using an essay someone else wrote
  • Purchasing a paper and submitting it as your own
  • Not citing sources properly or writing a fake citation
  • Using sections from a paper you previously wrote for another class without properly citing it (self-plagiarism)

Common Knowledge

When information is considered common knowledge, you do not need to cite it. But how do you know when something is common knowledge?

Common knowledge is information generally known by most people. For example, in a social studies paper you would not need to cite that the White House is located in Washington, D.C. because that is something most people know, especially the audience reading your paper (e.g., your classmates or instructor).

Always cite statistics. Even if you use a statistic that is considered common knowledge (e.g., divorce rates are around 50%, more than half of Americans are overweight or obese), you should find a reputable source to confirm this information.


You have learned:

  • Using another person’s ideas without crediting them equates to plagiarism
  • Failing to cite your sources also equates to plagiarism
  • You must cite all sources used in writing your research project
  • Most of the ideas used to support your research should be put into your own words; otherwise known as paraphrasing
  • You do not need to cite common knowledge
  • There is more than one way to plagiarize

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