Citing Sources Properly

Citing sources properly is essential to avoiding plagiarism in your writing. Not citing sources properly could imply that the ideas, information, and phrasing you are using are your own, when they actually originated with another author. Plagiarism can occur when authors:

  • Do not include enough citations for paraphrased information;
  • Paraphrase a source incorrectly;
  • Do not use quotation marks; or
  • Directly copy and paste phrasing from a source without quotation marks or citations.

Look through the types of plagiarism listed below to find out more about identifying, fixing, and avoiding plagiarism in your own work.

Not Enough Citations

Plagiarism can appear in a paper in the form of insufficient citations.  In both instances, the author is not giving the reader enough information to understand (a) what information is from a source and (b) which source the author used.

To make sure you are including enough citations in a paper, you will want to cite sources either parenthetically or in-text in each sentence you use a source. Here is an example of a paragraph that uses multiple sources:

Conflict is inevitable in a healthcare environment because of emotional, financial, and operational stressors that heighten its potential (Vivar, 2006). Conflict, however, is both a positive and negative phenomenon that effective nurse leaders delineate using their skills to develop insight (Manion, 2005). The purpose of this application is to analyze a conflict situation in nursing practice using Sportsman's (2005) framework of conflict assessment.

If the author had not included citations for each of these sources in the sentence he or she used them, the reader would not be sure which information came from Vivar (2006) and which came from Manion (2005).

Here is an example of a paragraph that does not have enough citations for information the author has paraphrased:

Teachers use differentiated instruction to help students learn, allowing the teacher to cater lessons to the way each student learns and each students' skill. Differentiation in teaching helps students by giving for learning in different ways. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sets rigid standards for teachers, which does not allow for this multidisciplinary approach that differentiation asks for. In this way, NCLB is not compatible with differentiation in the classroom (Thompson, 2009).

In this paragraph, the author has only included a citation at the very end of the paragraph. In fact, however, the authors used Thompson's (2009) information throughout the paragraph. This format creates confusion for the reader who is not sure where the author got the information in the first three sentences. In order for the paragraph above to be correct, each sentence would require a citation.

Incorrect Paraphrasing

Incorrect paraphrasing is another way plagiarism can be present in an author's writing. Incorrect paraphrasing is usually when author replace just a word or two of a source's phrasing with synonyms. This type of paraphrasing does not show enough understanding and engagement with the text. Instead, authors need to strive to takes ideas and information and place them in their own words. Two common characteristics of incorrect paraphrasing includes when the paraphrased version:

    1. Has the same sentence structure as the original and
    2. Has key words from the original that the author simply rearranged or replaced.

Note that the material here only discusses how to avoid incorrect paraphrasing as it relate to plagiarism. There is much more that goes into effectively paraphrasing a source, however, so we also encourage you to visit the paraphrasing portion of the website for more in-depth discussion of how to best use paraphrasing.

In the following examples, notice the difference in the three attempts at paraphrasing. In Attempt 1, no credit is given to the original authors at all. In Attempt 2, citations appear, but nearly all the words and sentences flow one after another as in the original. In Attempt 3, the student successfully rewrote the essence of the original in his own words.

 

Original: Severin and Tankard (1992)

Attempt 1: Plagiarism

There is evidence to suggest that newsmakers are becoming particularly savvy about placing items on the media agenda. When for example, President Reagan was running for his second term, he took a tour to promote his administration's record on environmentalism. The tour was full of photo opportunities, including the president standing on a fishing boat in the Chesapeake Bay and the president wearing a park ranger's hat at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

Evidence suggests that newsmakers are becoming particularly savvy about placing items on the media agenda. When President Reagan was running for his second term, he took a tour to promote his administration's record on environmentalism. The tour was full of photo opportunities, including the president standing on a fishing boat in the Chesapeake Bay and the president wearing a park ranger's hat at a cave in Kentucky.

Attempt 2: Plagiarism Despite Citation

Attempt 3: Successful Paraphrasing

Evidence suggests that newsmakers are becoming particularly savvy about placing items on the media agenda (Severin & Tankard, 1992). When President Reagan was running for his second term, he took a tour to promote his administration's record on environmentalism (Severin & Tankard, 1992). The tour was full of photo opportunities, including the president standing on a fishing boat in the Chesapeake Bay and the president wearing a park ranger's hat at a cave in Kentucky (Severin & Tankard, 1992, p. 256).

Severin and Tankard (1992) noted President Reagan's apparent hypocrisy when he ran for reelection in 1984. By posing for a photo opportunity in a boat on the Chesapeake Bay, Reagan, according to Severin and Tankard, possibly used the appearance of concern to mislead voters.

 

Lack of Quotation Marks

Another form of plagiarism can occur when authors do not use proper formatting for citations of paraphrased or quoted information. APA asks that authors always use quotation marks around any source's exact words or phrasing. The quotation marks serve as a marker for the reader, showing where exactly the author's voice ends and the source's voice starts.

Here is an example of a paragraph with a quotation that the author has not properly cited:

Student diversity is one variable that must be considered in meeting the academic needs of students (Smith & McTighe, 2006). According to Tomlinson (1991), differentiated instruction is an approach that effectively engages students through different levels and modalities to address the existing academic diversity. Conversely, Tomlinson stated that as a result of a lack of sufficient research, few studies document the effectiveness of differentiated instruction on student learning (p. 19).

In this paragraph, the reader will think that the author has paraphrased these sources' information. In reality, though, the last sentence includes a quote from Tomlinson's (1991) article.

Here is how the author should format the quoted information:

Student diversity is one variable that must be considered in meeting the academic needs of students (Smith & McTighe, 2006). According to Tomlinson (1991), differentiated instruction is an approach that effectively engages students through different levels and modalities to address the existing academic diversity. Conversely, Tomlinson stated that "as a result of a lack of sufficient research, few studies document the effectiveness of differentiated instruction on student learning" (p. 19).

Now that quotation marks are included, the reader can clearly identify the phrasing that belongs to Tomlinson and the phrasing that belongs to the author.

Direct Copy and Pasting from Source

Another form of plagiarism occurs when entire phrases, sentences, or paragraphs from a source are copied and reproduced in an author's work without citation. The use of sources in this way presents the source's ideas and phrasing as the author's own instead of giving credit to the original author. For example, here is a paragraph from a source by Tomlinson (2008) that an author might want to use in his or her paper:

Differentiation as an instructional approach promotes a balance between a student's style and a student's ability. Differentiated instruction provides the student with options for processing and internalizing the content, and for constructing new learning in order to progress academically.

Here is an example of how an author might use quotation marks and citations to incorporate Tomlinson's (2008) information in his or her paper:

According to Tomlinson (2008), "Differentiation as an instructional approach promotes a balance between a studentís style and a studentís ability" (p. 2).

Note how the reader will be able to see easily that this sentence was borrowed from Tomlinson. However, an even better option for using Tomlinson's (2008) ideas would be for the author to only quote essential portions of the source.

Here is how an author might selectively quote Tomlinson:

According to Tomlinson (2008), differentiation in teaching helps students by giving "options for processing and internalizing the content" (p. 2).

This example is a more interactive way for an author to use a source's ideas, only quoting what is absolutely necessary. In this way, the author of the paper's voice stays dominant, with the source's voice (Tomlinson) only contributing a small portion of the sentence.

Additional Resources

Plagiarism doesn't just mean copy and pasting another author's words.  Review Amber's blog post, "Avoiding Unintentional Plagiarism," for more information!