It is always important to acknowledge any outside sources (such as a textbook, a novel, a movie, etc.) that you have used in your writing.

Whether you are directly quoting a source, paraphrasing ideas from a source or structuring a certain kind of assignment (such as description or a comparison and contrast) around sources, you need to properly acknowledge each source in order to inform your readers, give credit to the ideas and words belonging to others and avoid plagiarism.

There a quite a few formal styles of referencing outside sources; the styles developed by the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) are the most widely used, especially by students in the university system. By using these styles and applying their rules to your writing, you are establishing a relationship between your own original work and the work of your sources in a way that your readers can understand and appreciate.

Citation Styles

Avoiding Plagiarism

If you are writing a research paper or any paper that uses information from outside sources, it is important to properly document your use of those outside sources or references.

An outside source is anybody or anything from which you take information (facts, statistics, etc.) or ideas. This can include your professor, your friends, a magazine, a book, a website and so on. (Remember: Exceptions are commonly allowed for common knowledge, such as the fact that Columbus first crossed the Atlantic in 1492 or the common dictionary definitions of some words.)

On Citing or Quoting your Trusty Webster’s, Encarta or Wikipedia.

If you don’t identify the source, then anything you include from that source in your paper will look like your own ideas and you will be plagiarizing. Plagiarism is an offense that can result in a failing grade for a course and even expulsion from a university.

To avoid plagiarism, identify your sources in one of two ways:


You can paraphrase or summarize something by reworking the ideas and writing them in your own words, in the way that you understand them (just substituting synonyms for some of the words isn’t enough). When you paraphrase, you still need to identify the source of the ideas with a parenthetical citation (see Using MLA Style or Using APA Style). While paraphrasing can work for general ideas and information, you should always directly quote any single words or phrases that are distinctive to your source.

Direct Quotations

When you use the exact words or figures of any outside source you are directly quoting that source. To properly identify a direct quotation, place the information from the source inside double quotation marks (“like this”), followed by the proper parenthetical citation (see Using MLA Style or Using APA Style ). That way, the reader can see which words and ideas belong to you and which are taken directly from your source.