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Citing Sources: Avoiding Plagarism

Plagiarism doesn’t just come in the form of copying assignments off a friend, classmate, or SparkNotes; a big form of plagiarism comes in not citing all your sources in academic writing and not doing so in the proper format. Plagiarism, whether intentional or not, is a very serious matter, especially in academic settings. Intentionally committing plagiarism won’t just cost you a grade, it can bring severe penalties that can include failing your degree or even expulsion from college.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary presents us with the following definition of plagiarism, “To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: to use (another’s production) without crediting the source.”

When to Cite Sources

Citing sources is necessary anytime you use information from an outside source, even if you’re paraphrasing or putting information into your own words. Simplifying something, mentioning someone else’s observations, or rephrasing facts, statistics, and data is still taking information that is ultimately not your own and credit must be given where it's due. Writing something in your own words does not make that idea yours. The best way to avoid plagiarism, even if it's accidental, is to remember to cite your information and do so in the proper format!

This isn’t all to scare you off of using sources. You can reference the words and ideas of others, but you must cite the source to avoid committing plagiarism. Not sure what to cite? Anything that isn't common knowledge—cite it.

The specifics of citing and using in-text citations depend on the format you’re using. MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association) are two common citation styles you may come across. Also, note that this article uses MLA citing format.

In-Text Citations

An in-text citation is a brief indication of the source used so that it is easily found in the citation list at the end of the paper. MLA style in-text citations consist of the author's last name and page number enclosed in parenthesis while APA uses the author's last name and the year of publication. For example, if you were quoting Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in MLA style, your in-text citation would look like this: (Shakespeare, 9). If you're lacking an author, match the in-text citation with the first element listed in the citation in the Works Cited list (“The Basics of MLA In-Text Citations").

Citing at the End of Your Paper

In addition to mentioning where you get your information from and using in-text citations, it’s also necessary to include a list of citations at the end of your paper containing information on all the used sources. “Works Cited” is the title used for the citation page in an MLA styled paper and “References” is the title used in APA. Online citation makers can be used to create the individual citations in their proper MLA or APA format.

The Library is Here to Help!

If you feel unsure about citing sources and avoiding plagiarism, fear not! Know that the Reedley College Library holds workshops on a variety of topics, including how to properly cite sources and avoid plagiarism. There is an upcoming “Avoiding Plagiarism” workshop on 4/28. More information and details on this and other workshops can be found on the library’s events and workshops online page and Canvas.

Works Cited

“Plagiarizing.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Shakespeare, William, et al. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

“The Basics of MLA In-Text Citations | Scribbr 🎓.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 July 2020,

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