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Plagiarism Resources: Citing Your Sources

Study resources to help you avoid plagiarism


Citing is a formal way of showing where you got the information in your assignment.  

Your instructors don't expect you to be an expert. Instead, they want to see that you have read and understood credible sources written by people who are experts. Show them who you know, rather than what you know, by citing all the sources you used to complete your assignment. 

  • The Citation Lesson teaches you how to create citations. 
  • The Columbia College APA and MLA citation guides show you how to cite in each style.

Citing is important for many reasons:

  1. Gives credit to the authors of the information source.
  2. Shows your reader where you found the information, and lets them go back to the original source to learn more. 
  3. Provides your argument with credibility.  Citing shows that you've done your research.

Incorporating Information from Outside Sources

You need to provide a balance between outside sources and your own original ideas. 

You can include information from outside sources by using:

  • Paraphrases
  • Summaries
  • Quotes

When you paraphrase, summarize or quote another author, their ideas still need to be connected to your own.  Signal phrases can help the reader know that you are using information from an outside source.  Phrases and words such as "according to", "states", or "argues" can be used to introduce a paraphrase, summary or quotation.  After using outside information, explain why the source is significant or how the idea relates to your own argument. 

When In Doubt, Cite It!

You must cite all sources used in all assignments that you create.  It does not matter what format your assignment is in, or where you use a quote, summary, paraphrase or statistics.

Always cite:

  • Direct quotations taken from sources - place quotation marks around the words in direct quotes.

  • Paraphrased ideas and opinions taken from someone else's work.

  • Summaries of ideas taken from someone else's work.

  • Factual information, including statistics or other data (unless it is considered common knowledge.)

Summarizing, Paraphrasing & Quoting

A summary is a condensed version of information from another source. Summaries usually highlight the main points discussed in a source.

When you summarize:

  • Keep your summary brief. Summaries should be much shorter than the original source.
  • Stick to just the main points.
  • Make sure your summary is in your own words.

A paraphrase is a restatement of another person's ideas in your own words. 

When you paraphrase, you must:

  • Change both the sentence structure and the words used.
  • Accurately express the original author's ideas.

Paraphrasing tips:

  • First read the original passage a few times to make sure you understand what the author is saying. 
  • Write down the author's main points in point form. 
  • When writing your paraphrase, don't look at the source you are paraphrasing. Use your notes of the author's main points and write sentences that present those ideas in different ways. 
  • Avoid switching out words with synonyms. This will create sentences that sound odd!
  • ​When taking notes, try to paraphrase important passages immediately, rather than writing down direct quotes. This can lead to unintentional plagiarism.

Quotes are a word-for-word copy of what another author said.

When you quote:

  • Make sure quotes are contained in "quotation marks."
  • Make sure you don't over-rely on quotes! Your paper should mostly be your own original ideas. Use quotes only to illustrate your point.
  • Use quotes from experts, not from unreliable sources
  • If you have to change a word within a quotation, put the changed word in square brackets.

Common Knowledge

The Citation Exception: ​Common Knowledge

The only source material you do not have to cite is information that's considered common knowledge. Common knowledge generally refers to any well-established, uncontroversial fact about the world, or a fact that cannot be attributed to just a single source.  

  • 5 Credible Sources Rule:
    • As a general rule, if you can find a piece of information in 5 credible sources without a citation, you can consider this information common knowledge.
If you're not sure if something is common knowledge, it's better to be safe and cite it!