When you include material in your writing without citation, you commit plagiarism. Students sometimes assume that significantly altering the wording of a source avoids plagiarism, but even a good paraphrase (which can be hard to create) will often require proper citation.
You must cite your sources when…
1. You directly quote at least two words exactly as they appear in the source, or one word if it is used in an unusual/innovative way.
2. You indirectly quote a source, meaning that you paraphrase.
3. You summarize a source.
4. You provide unique facts or data from a source.
5. You copy the structure of the argument in a source. Even if you are using your own wording, copying someone’s argument without citing them is plagiarism.
6. You expand upon the work or method of someone else.
7. You modify code or mathematics.
8. You collaborate with others.
9. You use an image under copyright, or someone’s video or audio.
You do not need to cite when…
1. You refer to something that is “common knowledge,” which is general information that you could expect educated people to know.
Note: “Common knowledge” is often relative. For example, what is common knowledge for a sociologist is not necessarily common knowledge for an art historian, a lawyer, an anthropologist, or a physicist. As a general rule, if you have to look it up, then you need cite it.
2. You provide information that can be easily looked up in a reference source.
Note: This does not mean that you should cite reference sources, especially dictionaries and encyclopedias. Check with your instructor but typically these sources are not considered to be “scholarly” sources.
3. You provide information that is mentioned in many sources (5+).
If you have questions about any of these situations you should speak with your instructor.
When you are in doubt about whether you should cite or not, it is safest to just cite it or check with your instructor. As you develop as a writer it is important to learn when to cite and when doing so is inappropriate.
Submitting Old Work for Credit in Another Course
Without direct approval from your teacher, you should never submit an old paper for credit in another course. Even though you are the author of the paper, this is academically dishonest, and most universities and colleges consider this a serious violation of academic integrity.
A Helpful Tip
It is best to write without your sources open. When you write a paper while looking at a source, it is very difficult to compose something original. Remember that even paraphrasing, also known as indirect citation, requires the proper documentation of your source.
Remember that MLA citation is always parenthetical-page citation!
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Image Credit: Thief by Deemak Daksina from the Noun Project