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Using Sources & Avoiding Plagiarism: Fundamentals of Citation

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When Citation is Required

  • If you quote text from or borrow data or material from a source, you must indicate the extent of the quoted material and cite the source.

  • If you are borrowing text, place the quoted material in quotation marks or, if the passage is four lines or longer of typed text, offer it as a block quotation. Your citation should appear at the point of quotation, either in parentheses or in a footnote or endnote, depending on the citation guidelines used in the course. Listing the source in a bibliography or list of Works Cited does not, by itself, constitute proper citation. You must cite it at the point of use.

  • If you quote a distinctive phrase, or even a single distinctive word or piece of data particular to someone’s analysis, interpretation, or argument, place it in quotation marks and cite the source.

  • If you paraphrase an idea or special information from a source—that is, if you restate the idea in fresh language, altering the exact wording—you must cite that source.

  • If you use images, maps, charts, tables, data sets, musical compositions, film, artworks, new media compositions, multimodal compositions, computer source code, song lyrics, and the like, you must cite your source.

  • If you find a solution to a problem on a website and you use that solution—even if you use it just to teach yourself to solve the problem—you must cite the source.

Common Knowledge

Certain facts and concepts widely referred to by members of a community, nearly all of whom have at one time or another drawn upon those facts or concepts in speech or writing, and have frequently heard other members of the community refer to them without naming their source are considered common knowledge, and need not be cited.

This includes such things as widely-accepted historical, scientific, or social facts, and widely-known explanations understood by a community as truisms.

Key Tip


To determine the need for citation, you can ask yourself this question: “Do the community members who constitute my audience generally know or refer to X, or do their references to X go uncited without concern?”

If you are uncertain about the common knowledge status of a term, concept, or datum that you refer to, go ahead and offer its source citation When in doubt, cite

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