Citing Sources

When to Cite: Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

Scholarly research and knowledge builds on previous ideas. Part of the process of writing a research paper involves the use of material gathered from other sources, such as books, journal articles, or Internet sites. If you use any of the material from these sources, either by direct quotation or by paraphrasing [restating another’s idea or opinion in your own words], you will need to acknowledge the original work with a proper citation. To fail to do this is plagiarism. “Plagiarism consists of passing off the ideas, opinions, conclusions, facts, words–in short, the intellectual work–of another as your own” (Leggett 486).

You must document:

  1. Direct quotations (these are the author’s exact words and must be in quotation marks)
  2. Ideas, opinions, insights, or conclusions of another even if you paraphrase that person’s wording
  3. Information that is not well known or is open to dispute
  4. Tables, graphs, charts, or statistics taken from another source.

You do not need to document:

  1. Common knowledge
  2. Your own original ideas, opinions, insights, or conclusions.

Following the above guidelines, a paper on John F. Kennedy would not need to document that he was elected President in 1960; however, your summary of a historian’s analysis of his performance as President would need to be cited.


Material taken from an Internet site should be treated as intellectual property and properly cited. The format in which words or ideas come to you (electronic, paper, verbal) is not as important as acknowledging that the words or ideas are not originally yours.

The ease of copy and pasting with electronic sources makes plagiarism a particular temptation when using online resources. To avoid using language that is too similar to the author’s original wording, try reading the online source first then put it aside and summarize it without the material directly in front of you. This can help to ensure that you use your own style and language to capture the author’s ideas. Don’t forget that, even though you have paraphrased the idea, you are still required to cite it in your paper.


There are many styles of citation. Two of the more commonly used styles at USF are:

  1. APA [American Psychological Association] is most often used in business, education, psychology, and social sciences.
  2. MLA [Modern Language Association] is usually used in the humanities and fine arts.


Plagiarism is specifically listed as one of the forms of academic dishonesty that will not be tolerated at USF. Consult the current edition of the Undergraduate Catalog of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (available online).