Basic Advice on How to Cite Sources

"plagiarize... [definition]: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own use (a created production) without crediting the source ~ vi to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source..." (Anonymous (1977) Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, MA: p. 877)

1. Anyone who turns in an assignment that involved consulting references without identifying them has committed plagiarism.
2. Anyone who turns in an assignment that involves consulting references without adequately citing them has also committed plagiarism.
3. Anyone who turns in an assignment in which it is claimed an author is summarized, but in fact the author is quoted or paraphrased has also committed plagiarism.
4. It is not the job of a graduate-level course instructor to teach you how to cite your sources! Take it up with your elementary and high school teachers if they never held you to learning how to cite your sources.

Rules of thumb

In general, don't turn in papers at the graduate level that have no sources cited. (The only exception is if your instructor tells you that the assignment involves no outside research and has no expectation that you should track down the sources of information that you know that are not common knowledge. This almost never happens.)

Everything that is not common knowledge should be cited. Common knowledge refers to what the intended audience for your essay can presumably be expected to already know and/or what a reasonable person would not dispute.

Undergraduates begin and end their research using sources such as Wikipedia. As graduate students, we expect the bulk of your research will come from articles in peer reviewed journals and respected authorities (e.g. the Encyclopedia Britannica).

Citations should be "idiot proof", i.e. a reasonably intelligent person should be able to find the source you provide based upon your reference. If you quote or paraphrase specific wording, you need to identify exactly where in the reference the quoted words come from, i.e. a page number. (The only exception is a web source for which there are no page numbers.)

Appending a list of references at the end of a paper does NOT constitute adequate citation. You must give your reader some idea of how they were used, which ideas came from which sources.

If your entire paper is based on a single source, use a footnote on the title to clarify your debt, e.g. "1. This essay is paraphrased from source X, unless otherwise indicated." (Some journals will not allow authors to use footnotes - if this is the case, begin the first paragraph by stating in the text that the following essay has been paraphrased from source X unless otherwise noted (X). Then provide the complete citation at the end of the essay in the section identified "References".)

If the information in a paragraph is based on a single source, use a footnote at the end of the paragraph to indicate your debt to that source. You can sometimes get away with citing the reference at the end of the paragraph (Smith 2002), provided a complete reference to the source is provided in a list of references AND a reasonable person would recognize upon reading the paragraph that indeed the claims in the preceding sentences all came from the one source identified at the end of the paragraph.

If a single sentence within a paragraph cites information from a single source, cite the source you consulted (e.g. "(Smith 2002)") and provide a full citation to the source on a list of references at the end.

Unless the exact wording is crucial (or the claim highly controversial) do not quote from sources. Quoting is the only time when your source should be out in front of you when you write the sentence, paragraph, etc.

In general, the best way to avoid misrepresenting a sentence as merely summarizing when in point of fact it represents a paraphrase or direct quote is to close the source before you write the sentence (paragraph, etc.) in your own words.

There are multiple reference styles -e.g. the Chicago Manual of Style, APA. Whichever one you use be consistent.

After all this, you might be tempted to simply add a footnote with a reference to each paragraph, regardless of whether you have actually consulted that source. DO NOT DO THIS! It is intellectually dishonest to claim you consulted a work that you did not actually consult. It is also plagiarism if the view you attribute to the author is not one he or she holds in the work cited, i.e. it misrepresents the authoršs views as expressed in the cited source.

Back to the SCI 6140 Home Page

You may contact Dave Rudge either by email, by phone (616)-387-2779 or by fax (616)-387-5609.

Dave Rudge's Home Page.

The Department of Biological Sciences's Home Page.

The Mallinson Institute for Science Education's Home Page.

Western Michigan University's Home Page.

Last updated on 5 Jan 2012.