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Research Process: Cite Sources

Cite Sources Properly

When you find an article (or any other resource), be sure to properly cite the source of your information. Instructors will inform students of the citation style needed for research papers in their subject area. Two commonly used style manuals are MLA (Modern Language Association) for English and the humanities, and APA (American Psychological Association) for social sciences. Although the formats differ in detail, their purpose is the same—to lead the reader to the source of the writer’s information. The key ingredients for a citation are the author’s name, the title of the article or book, the publishing information (book publisher or journal title), the date of publication, and page numbers.

For more information on how to format your paper and cite your sources in various formats, please refer to Lakeland Library's Writing and Citing Research Guide.


Plagiarism is the intentional or unintentional theft of someone else’s intellectual property (ideas). Intellectual property can be in the form of written or spoken words, music, film, websites, or inventions. When a student uses the ideas of others, and fails to credit the author, that constitutes plagiarism.

Intentional plagiarism is fairly obvious—turning in someone else’s paper as one’s own or cutting and pasting portions of someone else’s work into a paper without citing it is widely recognized as plagiarism.

Unintentional plagiarism occurs when students fail to differentiate between common knowledge and something that needs to be cited. That the earth revolves around the sun is common knowledge; Galileo does not have to be cited.

  • Direct quotes—A quote from Galileo’s work would need to be cited because by quoting, a student is incorporating the exact thoughts of Galileo into their paper.
  • Paraphrasing—Paraphrasing is putting Galileo’s quote into your own words. You may use different words and change the sentence around, but it is still Galileo’s idea and a paraphrase still needs to be cited.

The bulk of a research paper should be the student’s work, as cited sources are only part of the whole. Instructors expect students to merge their own ideas with those of accepted authorities to create a new work.

Here are some reasons plagiarism might occur:

  1. Not taking accurate notes of sources when researching may lead to fudging the citation as best one can.
  2. Waiting until the last minute to write a paper may lead to cutting and pasting off the web without citing.
  3. Fear of the writing process causes students to use someone else’s words rather than their own.
  4. Misunderstanding when and how to cite leads to inaccurate, non-existent or over-cited research papers.

Here are some tips to help you avoid plagiarism:

No Citation Necessary
Common knowledge—if a fact or idea is well known, you do not need to cite a source unless you quote a source to establish that fact in your paper. For instance, citing would be necessary if you used a specific dictionary’s definition of a well-known word instead of defining it in your own terms.

Using your own words to summarize a source’s ideas shows you understand the idea and are blending it into your own work. However, even if you change the words and the sentence structure, you are still using the idea—cite the source.

Manage the Research Process

  • Research well in advance of writing the paper.
  • Keep careful notes of citation information or make copies of the title pages of sources you plan to use. Note page numbers.
  • Organize your notes for easy reference as you write. Note cards were invented for this!
Lakeland Community College Library | 7700 Clocktower Dr. Kirtland, OH, 44094 | 440-525-7425 | myLakeland