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Using Sources: Evaluating Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism: Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Everyone knows that directly copying another author's work is plagiarism, but there are also less obvious forms of plagiarism.  Plagiarism takes many forms and the consequences can be severe, so it pays to be well informed.

The simple definition: Plagiarism is copying an author's work and passing it off as your own.

This definition may seem simple, but plagiarism can be much more complicated.  Did you know that you could be held responsible for plagiarism if you paraphrase (i.e., to put in your own words) an author's work without providing a citation?  Even if you cite your source, if paraphrasing is not done correctly, you could still be plagiarizing.

Always Cite Your Sources!

Whether you quote, paraphrase or summarize, you must always provide a citation for the sources that you used.

Why Bother Citing?

The purpose of college-level research is to locate and analyze literature created by experts in your field, then process all of the information that you found to create your own new ideas or conclusions. Citations are important, because they give credit to the authors who helped you develop your ideas.  Citations also give your paper authority, because they show that you have read literature on the topic and that your conclusions build upon work of other authors. When you provide proper citations, your professors will see that you understand the purpose of college-level research.

Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Paraphrasing is taking a small excerpt from your source and putting it into your own words, whereas summarizing gives an overview of the main points from an entire source (e.g., and entire book or article).  In both cases, it is important to cite your sources.  The video below explains more.  For more detail and examples, see Purdue OWL: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing.

Direct Quotes (Using an Author's Exact Words)

  • College-level writing is about processing information and creating your own new ideas, so you should only use direct quotes (i.e., an author's exact words) when it is absolutely necessary (e.g., when an author uses unique terminology).  Other times you should summarize or paraphrase. 
  • If you do quote directly, quote only partial sentences, not full sentences or paragraphs, unless you are providing a critical analysis of a text (e.g., a story or poem).
  • Be sure that all direct quotes are enclosed with quotation marks (".").
  • Examples: Purdue OWL: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing



Purdue OWL provides an excellent example showing quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing in the same paragraph:

In his famous and influential work the Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud argues that dreams are the "royal road to the unconscious" (page #), expressing in coded imagery the dreamer's unfulfilled wishes through a process known as the "dream-work" (page #). According to Freud, actual but unacceptable desires are censored internally and subjected to coding through layers of condensation and displacement before emerging in a kind of rebus puzzle in the dream itself (page #).

Quoting: "royal road to the unconscious" and "dream-work"

Paraphrasing: "According to Freud, actual..."

Summarizing: "In his famous and influential work..."

For more paraphrasing examples, see Successful vs. Unsuccessful Paraphrasing.

Source: Driscoll, Dana and Allen Brizee. "Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing." Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 14 Dec. 2011. Web. 27 Jul. 2012.

When in Doubt, Ask a Librarian

Plagiarism is a tricky topic for many students, but two rules will help guide you:

1. When in doubt, cite it!  There are some cases where you may not need to cite (e.g., common knowledge), but plagiarism is a "better safe than sorry" situation.  If you are not sure whether a source needs to be cited, go ahead and cite it!

2. Ask a librarian!  Librarians are the citation/plagiarism experts and are happy to help you.  This guide will explain some of the general concepts of plagiarism, but you might still be unsure of what to do in your particular case.  Ask a librarian in person, by phone or via the chat box on the homepage.