InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Student Resource Center
Internet Research Guide
Part 6

Plagiarism and documentation

Plagiarism means, quite simply, stealing from the writings or ideas of another. It is one of the most important issues students must contend with as they learn to conduct research. The trouble comes when you face an assignment that requires you to find the writings and ideas of another and incorporate them into your own work. On the surface, some assignments may seem like invitations to plagiarise, especially if they require the use of secondary sources. However, research should never be plagiarism. Research should function only to support ideas of your own.

The key to avoiding plagiarism is to understand the concepts behind academic documentation. Documentation involves citing sources you use in order that ideas and words that are not yours are clearly attributed to their rightful owners.

Direct quotation
Citation styles
Internet citations, MLA Style
Internet citations, APA Style
Practice: Internet citations

Direct quotation

One method of incorporating research into your own work is through direct quotation. This means including another person's ideas word-for-word in your document. Imagine, for example, you make the claim that "Many leading agricultural economists argue that U.S. agricultural policy is not as free-trade oriented as popular opinion might have us believe." To support this claim you cite an expert in the field: "For example, according to professor Andrew Schmitz, 'the 1999 U.S. farm bailout of 8 billion dollars suggests that government intervention plays a major role in sustaining U.S. agriculture' (30)."

In this instance, direct quotation is used to import the ideas and authority of another author into your own work. You don't want to rely too heavily on quotation since you can often end up surrendering your own voice to those you've quoted. Also, always be sure to quote exactly. Quoting someone incorrectly in your writing is just like telling somebody something and having them tell someone else but changing the story slightly. Then it gets back to you in a totally different form than how you'd originally said it.

When you quote directly, you need to choose only limited passages to include. In a four or five page research paper, you do not want to include an entire paragraph of quoted material. From that paragraph you would need to choose a sentence or couple of sentences that best say what you want to say in the least amount of space.

Also, when including a quotation in your work, do not simply place it between quotes and expect your readers to accept it. Always introduce your quotation to give your reader some sense of where it comes from, what the authority of the source is, or perhaps some context. Here are two examples:
Ralph Jones, in Chemistry That Matters, writes, "we are all involved, in some way, with chemistry" (3).

Following the last round of international trade talks, Leslie More, of the U.S. Delegation on Trade, noted that "Canada's supply management structure makes it difficult for U.S. farmers to compete in the world market" (56).
Notice that these examples name authors, sources, or qualifications instead of simply giving the quotation. This give your reader a good sense of why these people are worth quoting.


Sometimes it is more useful to paraphrase information than to quote it directly, especially if you need to cover a lot of ground but do not have a lot of space in your own paper to do so. Paraphrasing involves putting another author's ideas in your own words. Paraphrasing still requires that you document the original source. Otherwise you've crossed the line from paraphrasing to plagiarism.

Also, paraphrasing should not just be a process of taking another author's sentences and replacing each key word with a synonym and then calling it your own. You need to reshape entirely the passage you are paraphrasing. This means rewriting from top to bottom.

Citation styles

Since almost all academic writing involves situating ideas or new research into what already exists, all academics must, at times, quote and paraphrase other academics. Thus there have developed rigorous systems of citation so that authors are able to give their sources credit. To avoid plagiarism, do not think you have to be entirely original and not read anything anyone else has written. Just remember that you must quote and cite your sources accurately and honestly. Quotation must support, not make, your argument.

Most systems of citation involve some kind of in-text citation as well as a works-cited or bibliography page after the main body of your paper. Note that certain disciplines use different citation styles, so you need to be aware of which one is required of you. (If you are taking a variety of classes in different disciplines, you might even have to be using different documentation styles for every paper you write.)

Two common citation styles are Modern Languages Association (MLA) style and American Psychological Association (APA) style. MLA style is generally used in fields like English, and APA is common in the social sciences like Psychology and Sociology. Further details on each of these styles are available at and

Internet citations, MLA Style

MLA style requires in-text citations in which you give the author and page number for information you have quoted or paraphrased: Northrop Frye describes his book The Great Code as "a study of the Bible from the point of view of a literary critic" (xi).

The parenthetical roman numeral at the end of the sentence constitutes the MLA in-text citation in this case. Note that if you name the author in the sentence, you do not need to repeat the name in the citation. Also, do not write "page" or "pg" or anything aside from the page number itself. If you do not name the author in your own sentence, put the last name only in the citation: (Smith 32).

Since there are so many possible sources you may deal with, it is best to get a recent writer's handbook which describes how to do citations for many different circumstances including books, articles, CD-ROMs, web pages, newspapers, and so forth. Also, check the MLA web site for up-to-date information on citation style.

In addition to the in-text portion of MLA citation, you also need to construct a works-cited page that includes entries for all the sources you've paraphrased or quoted. Do not include entries for material you just read but did not incorporate into your own work. For every author or source you mention in your in-text citation, there must be a corresponding works-cited entry.

The works-cited begins on a new page at the end of your paper. Entries are alphabetical. As with in-text formatting, since there are so many possible sources, you need to have a reference book handy which shows you how to format each source you've used.

Web sites are generally formatted as follows:
Associated Press. "Stock Markets on the Slide." Netscape Home. 3 May. 2000. (15 May. 2000)
Note that there are two dates included. The first is the date of the web site's latest update or revision (if you can find it); the second is the date you visited the site and found the information. Note also that the name with which you identify the source in your in-text citation and in your works-cited entry must match. That is, if I am reading your paper and come across an in-text citation for (Associated Press), then the works-cited entry for that source should be listed by Associated Press instead of Netscape, or "Stock Markets Slide", for example.

Internet citations, APA style

APA requires that in-text citations include author name and year: (Smith, 1998). You must include a page number for directly quoted material only, not for information you've paraphrased. Use the abbreviation p. to indicate a single page number and pp. to indicate multiple page numbers as in the example (Smith, pp. 24-26, 1998).

Where MLA style requires a works-cited page, APA requires a References page. Because the variety of sources you might be dealing with is so various, you need to find an adequate resource that explains the formatting for many different entries. Check the APA web site for recent style information.

APA style for web sites is as follows:
Associated Press. (2000, May 3). Stock Markets on the Slide. Retrieved May 15, 2000 from the World Wide Web:

Practice: MLA and APA Style

Using the following key words, perform Internet searches. Take the top three search results, visit each site, and then compose a single sentence that quotes information from each site. For each sentence be sure to provide accurate in-text citation as well as a works-cited or References entry. Follow the style that is required by your field of study.

Downloadable music
Police violence
Prescription drug costs
Car battery replacement
Shakespeare on the Internet