12 – Avoiding Plagiarism and Citing Sources Properly


Deborah Bernnard; Greg Bobish; Jenna Hecker; Irina Holden; Allison Hosier; Trudi Jacobson; Tor Loney; Daryl Bullis; Yvonne Bruce; Claire Carly-Miles; Kathy Anders; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; Kalani Pattison; and Matt McKinney

Plagiarism is when you use words, thoughts, or ideas that belong to someone else without giving them credit. In both the classroom and in the professional world of publishing, documenting your information sources is the only way you can convey to others how thorough and careful you have been in researching your topic. Moreover, if you do not tell readers where your information came from, they may think (and many do) that you either made up the information or “stole” it.

When to Cite

Documenting your sources entails providing information on the author of the referenced materials and the publication in which they appear. This practice is also known as citing a source. The specific requirements for citing a source vary across different citation styles. In certain styles, such as APA, you must include the date of publication somewhere in the body text. In MLA, by contrast, you are not required to include a date in the in-text citation.

Regardless of the citation style you use, the major question is this: when exactly should you provide documentation for something? As a rule, cite whenever you use something (text, data, idea, or image) in whole or in part from another source. Specifically, you must cite your source when you do the following:

  • Copy a sentence or paragraph verbatim (literally, word-for-word) from a book, article, website, blog posting, or anywhere online or in print.
  • Use an exact phrase or choice words from a sentence or paragraph, even if you are not copying the whole sentence or paragraph.
  • Use original information that you have obtained from an interview or conversation with someone.
  • Paraphrase or reword a sentence or phrase from an outside source, or use the ideas inherent in the exact sentence or phrase.
  • Reprint images, maps, diagrams, charts, or tables.
  • Embed video files or audio files into your work.

When Not to Cite

You do not need to provide citations for commonly known dates and facts. One guideline is that if a fact appears in more than five sources, then it is commonly known. However, if it was not common knowledge to you, and you use a source, then document where you located the information.

You do not need to provide citations for common turns of phrase or idioms, such as “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

When in doubt, it is better to “over”-cite than “under”-cite. Unnecessary citations can be easily removed, and their presence has little overall impact; however, information that lacks proper documentation is much harder to correct and leads to more dire consequences.


ENGL 210-Specific Concerns for Academic Integrity

When it comes to academic integrity, word-for-word plagiarism is not the only concern. There are a few situations specific to this course that you will want to be aware of that are less clear-cut when it comes to what is acceptable.

For all course assignments, you must consult with your instructor and obtain their permission before using work that you created for and/or submitted in a different class. Failure to do so constitutes self-plagiarism and counts as academic dishonesty. For example, while you may have a cover letter and résumé readily at hand, you must construct original documents to submit for the Job Application Packet in English 210.

In your Job Application Packet, if you use a template for your résumé, make sure that all of the content in your résumé is originally created by you. Some templates provide helpful examples of content—use these examples to inspire your writing rather than directly copy them. This also goes for your cover letter. Using specific, detailed language taken from another source for your cover letter constitutes plagiarism.

For your 210 Portfolio (containing a proposal, progress report, recommendation report, and any group documentation), you may use the text you wrote for one part of your portfolio in a later part of your portfolio. For example, you will probably want to use parts of your Progress Report in your final Recommendation Report. This does not count as plagiarism because the work has been produced within the same class, and each assignment in the portfolio builds in some way upon the previous assignment.

Four Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

In order to avoid plagiarism, remember to do the following:

  1. Consider your need for information. If you are contemplating intentionally plagiarizing something, ask yourself what information you need to finish your assignment, and then consider alternate means for finding it. Your professor, your campus writing or academic success center, and your campus libraries are great places to get more information.
  2. Give yourself time. Make sure that you leave enough time to complete your assignment. If you budget your time carefully, you will be able to ask for help when necessary and will not feel the pressure to “copy and paste” in sections of writing.
  3. Take notes. When you are researching, always drop in the last name of the author, or even just a note saying “CITE,” in your writing. Take down as much bibliographic data as you can at the moment. This way you can keep track of your ideas and where they came from. You can format your citations later in the revision process.
  4. Ask for help. You may feel like you don’t understand the assignment or the text and think that the only way to complete your work is to plagiarize. If this is the case, contact the professor (through email or by going to their office hours) to talk about the assignment and your sources. Your professor is there to help you, and one-on-one meetings are available if you feel like you don’t want to ask questions in class. If you don’t want to talk to your professor, contact your librarian or writing center, or consult with a friend, family member, or classmate. Talking about your writing is a great way to start coming up with ideas.


Specific Resources for Texas A&M Students

If you are unsure about what you need to cite and what you don’t, ask your professor, a librarian, or a University Writing Center (UWC) consultant. The Texas A&M University Libraries’ website provides contact information so you can get help from a librarian by phone, chat, text, or email.[1] You can also make an appointment to speak with a consultant on the UWC’S website.[2]

Ethical Principles for Choosing and Using Sources

Students are often concerned with the details of correct citation—when to include an author’s name in parentheses, how to format a References section, how to indicate a quotation within a quotation—and while these are all important and helpful to know, it is more important to understand the larger ethical principles that guide choosing and using sources. Here are a few of these larger ideas to keep in mind as you select and synthesize your sources:

You must represent the topic or discipline you are writing about fairly. If nine out of ten sources agree that evidence shows the middle class in the United States is shrinking, it is unethical to use only the tenth source that argues it is growing without also acknowledging the minority status of that source.

You must represent the individual source fairly. If a source acknowledges that a small segment of the middle class in the United States is growing but most of the middle class is shrinking, it is unethical to suggest that the former is the writer’s main point.

You must acknowledge bias in your sources. While they may be credible, it is unethical to represent sources that offer extreme political views as if these views are mainstream.

You must cite all sources, even informal ones like Wikipedia or a dictionary. Using a dictionary definition, encyclopedia article, or Wikipedia entry  is still using a source: if you use exact words, you need quotation marks. If you paraphrase, you still need a citation.  Using common/popular sources does not mean the information is “common knowledge.”

You must summarize and paraphrase in your own words. In order to be truly yours, a summary or paraphrase must be completely in your own words and sentence structure. Be sure to give credit where credit is due: clearly distinguish what work and words belong to another and what work and words are yours.

This text was derived from

Deborah Bernnard, Greg Bobish, Jenna Hecker, Irina Holden, Allison Hosier, Trudi Jacobson, Tor Loney, and Daryl Bullis. The Information Literacy User’s Guide: An Open, Online Textbook, edited by Greg Bobish and Trudi Jacobson. Geneseo, NY: Open SUNY Textbooks, Milne Library, 2014). http://textbooks.opensuny.org/the-information-literacy-users-guide-an-open-online-textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Pantuso, Terri, and Sarah LeMire and Kathy Anders, eds. Informed Arguments: A Guide to Writing and Research. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University, 2019. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Bruce, Yvonne. “Using Sources Ethically.” A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing, Eds. Melanie Gagich and Emilie Zickel, ebook, MSL Academic Endeavors. https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/csu-fyw-rhetoric/chapter/9-1-what-is-plagiarism/ Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. Texas A&M University Library, https://library.tamu.edu/.
  2. Texas A&M University Writing Center, http://writingcenter.tamu.edu/.


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Plagiarism Copyright © 2022 by Deborah Bernnard; Greg Bobish; Jenna Hecker; Irina Holden; Allison Hosier; Trudi Jacobson; Tor Loney; Daryl Bullis; Yvonne Bruce; Claire Carly-Miles; Kathy Anders; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; Kalani Pattison; and Matt McKinney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.