Citation Basics

When Must I Cite? A general rule about citations is, when in doubt cite. This does not mean, however, that every single sentence in your manuscript should have a citation. Think about that for a second. If every sentence has a citation, it means there is not a single original thought in your paper. Furthermore, you could run into “fair use” issues because you are only allowed to use a “limited portion” of another’s work. Or you could get accused of patchwork writing where the work of other authors is simply stitched together to form a “new” document.

Plagiarism. It is a scary word. And plagiarism is a scary thing to be accused of so this will be a scary paragraph. There are some cases where it is quite clear that plagiarism has occurred. For example, copying and pasting an entire paragraph from a source and not giving credit is a pretty black and white case of plagiarism. However, many times it is grey and less clear. Note though, that even in these grey cases, plagiarism can be unintentional, but it is still plagiarism. Any type of plagiarism is not only academic dishonesty, which can have serious consequences including a failing grade on the assignment, a failing grade in the class, and even expulsion from the university, but it is also theft under U.S. copyright law.

To avoid plagiarism, you need to document and give credit when the ideas, facts, information, data, etc. that you present are not your own and are not common knowledge – that is common knowledge for a reasonably educated reader. For example, the fact that Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis does not need a citation. Or that he was in involved in dream analysis probably doesn’t need a citation either. However, if you wish to discuss how Freud distinguished between manifest and latent content of dreams then you probably need a citation and should refer to his work.

Anytime you use a direct quote you need a citation. Please only use direct quotes when it is absolutely necessary to get the exact words right. Even if you don’t use a direct quote, if you simply paraphrase or otherwise restate the thoughts or ideas presented by another you need a citation. Do not pass off the work of others as you own.

One more important point . . .

Citation implies you read the source. Let me repeat that a little stronger. Citation means you read the source material. It does not mean you read someone else’s summary. For example, if you are discussing Freud’s dream work you need to go back and read his original work. You should not read someone’s summary of his work and then cite Freud directly without ever reading it.

If you cite a source it means that you obtained, read, and understood it. Do NOT cite sources that you have not read . . as tempting as that might be.

Test Yourself


1. In order to avoid plagiarism every sentence should have a citation.

True
False

 

2. For plagiarism to take place it much be intentional.

True
False

 

3. When should you use direct quotes?

Only when it is important to get the words exactly correct.
Everytime you use a citation.
Only when the material is not common knowledge.

 

4. If you use a citation it means that you read the source material.

True
False