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Plagiarism: Don't Let It Happen to You!: When to Cite

A guide to understanding plagiarism and how to avoid it

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

In order to avoid plagiarism, credit must be given to what or who created your source.  Professional organizations like the Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) have standards that guide students to what types of sources must be cited and how these citations are constructed, but we know that you are not going to memorize those lists.  Here is a quick list of things that MUST be cited:

  • Words or ideas presented in a newspaper, magazine, books, blog, Twitter account, song, TV, web page, letter, advertisement, etc.
  • Information that you get from another person.  This includes interviews, phone conversations, and face-to-face conversations.
  • An exact phrase
  • Unique words
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • When you reuse or repost any electronically-available media, including images, audio, video, or other media

OWLPurdue Writing Lab Is It Plagiarism Yet?


A quotation is a direct copy of the words from your source material.  All quotations must be in quotations marks. 

Quotations are very powerful; you should use quotes when:

  • the passage states something that you disagree with, and you want to state it exactly so that you can contradict it.
  • the quoted words are from an authority who supports your point of view
  • the words are strikingly original
  • the phrase is original to that source
  • they express key points so well that the quotation can frame the rest of your entire discussion

When you quote be sure:

  • to copy the words of your source material exactly including punctuation, capitalization, and misspellings
  • cite your source material 

EXAMPLE in MLA citation style

Nancy Smith argues that many of Poe's short stories are written from "a bifocal point of view" (125).


Summary condenses information into a shorter passage than the original source.

Summarize when you only need the general point of the passage.  Summary is useful for general context, but should be avoided when using specific data or views.

When summarizing be sure:

  • that your version is shorter than the original
  • that you include all major relevant information
  • use your own words
  • provide a citation


Paraphrasing retells the information from the source material in roughly the same number of words.  It is best to paraphrase your source material when you can represent what the source says more clearly than it can.

Paraphrasing does not mean simply changing a word or two around.  You must use your own words and your own phrasing.

When paraphrasing you must:

  • include a citation
  • be sure to change the words and sentence structure significantly from the original

How to paraphrase:

1. Do not read the source material as you paraphrase.

2. Read the passage, then look away.

3. Think about the passage for a moment.

4. While still looking away, put the passage in your own words.

5. Check over what you have written to determine if it varies enough from the original.

6. Cite your source material.


Original: The Hun legions laid siege to the fortress (Brown 45).

Bad Paraphrase: The Huns stormed the castle.

Why: This is plagiarism.  The sentence structure is exactly the same with only different words substituted.

Good paraphrase:  Because capturing the fortress was essential for the Huns to take control of the region, they attacked with great force (Brown 45).

Why: It captures and reflects the meaning of the original, yet provides more detail; illustrating that the writer thought about the passage.