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How Easy is it to Avoid Plagiarism? - Citing Sources Properly

Once some students learn that they must cite their sources and a footnote stuck at the end of most paragraphs isn't enough, they worry about proper citation. They fear that they will be commiting plagiarism unintentionally and be caught without any explanation for their missteps.

It is not that difficult to cite your sources properly if you attend to some basic principles of intellectual honesty:

  1. Unless information is commonly known or easily found in several sources, you should cite it. Of course, what is commonly known depends on the audience, but if a research fact or phrase is not known by you, your professor, and many classmates, cite it; it is better to err on the side of caution.
  2. Cite paraphrased ideas and unique wording as well as direct quotations and little known facts. Proper citation demonstrates the quality of your research as you acknowledge your use of diverse sources.
  3. Try to use signal phrases, such as "According to _____ . . ." and "As ____ argues, . . ." so it easy for a reader to discern where cited material begins. Then the parenthetical citations of MLA style references, which are placed at the end of a sentence, mark where this research information ends and where your own thoughts restart. Proper citation identifies your own good thinking as well as effective research.
  4. Use one of the established systems of citation, such as MLA, APA and Chicago. Each discipline has its reasons for preferring one citation system over another so check with your professor on which one you should use.

Of course, it is almost impossible to cite properly if you are trying to write the only, meaning the first and the final, draft the night before it is due! The best way to avoid plagiarism is to take notes carefully and to start drafting early.

For more on avoiding plagiarism, go to Academic Honesty on this site. See also Part 9 of the Information Skills Tutorial of the UH Libraries' web site.