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Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 8. Citations & Plagiarism


About Citations

The Importance of Citations

Writing a research paper requires that you:

  • use outside resources for information
  • let readers know where that information came from
  • make it easy for readers to find the information themselves

That's what citations are for.  Unless you are stating your own ideas or common knowledge (such as that the Earth revolves around the sun), you will have to cite the source where the idea comes from.

Citing the sources you use in your paper:

  • gives credit to the author of the original source
  • avoids plagiarism
  • allows your readers to identify the source for further study
  • shows that your position is well-researched

Citation Styles

There are different citation styles for different areas of study.  APA, Chicago, and MLA are used most. Your instructor may require that you use a specific style for your paper, or let you choose.  Whichever citation style you use, make sure you follow the rules and use the same style throughout your paper.

We often think of the citation style as meaning only the 'References' or 'Works Cited' page at the end of a research paper. In fact, a citation style governs:

  • the format of the paper
  • the in-text citations
  • the bibliography

Check out our guides for each style, or learn even more at the Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab.

It's easy to get citations from most sources.  Watch this video to learn how.



Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of another person's words or ideas as if they were your own. This includes:

  • taking someone else's paper and turning it in as your own
  • copying sentences word-for-word from a source
  • quoting someone's words or using their ideas without giving them credit
  • using a substantial amount of information from someone else that makes up a majority of your paper even though you have given credit to the original source

Plagiarism is an academic offense and can have severe consequences. At Butte College, the consequences of plagiarism can range from failing a course to long-term suspension from the College.

While some students plagiarize with intent, many students commit plagiarism unintentionally. So it is important to be aware of different forms of plagiarism and make sure you avoid mistakes.  Watch this video to learn about avoiding plagiarism.

How to Introduce and Use Citations in Your Paper

It can be challenging to use citations in your paper. How should you introduce your sources? What and when do you need to cite? When should you paraphrase, summarize, or use a direct quotation? What do those terms even mean? 

Here are some things to consider when using resources in your writing. 

  1. Establish what does and does not need to be cited. In general, common knowledge does not need to be cited. This includes information in encyclopedias or dictionaries, facts and biographical information about well known people, and dates and major information about historical events. If you are unsure if the information is common knowledge, err on the side of caution and cite your source. 
  2. Learn what constitutes plagiarism. The short video in the right hand column will help. There are many different ways you can plagiarize information. In order to avoid plagiarism, cite your source any time you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote from something. 
  3. Learn the differences between summarizing, paraphrasing, and direct quotations
  4. Always introduce your sources so they are clear to your reader. Use words and phrases such as according to, states, suggests, argues, claims, etc. An example might be the following: Librarian Jean Ping suggests that a citation guide always be used for reference when writing citations (22).
  5. When in doubt, ask for help. You can ask a librarian, your instructor, or contact CAS

Citation Generators

The citation generator links below can help you format your citations using forms and prompts. Just choose your style and type of source.

Need More Help?

Get your paper and citations checked at the Center for Academic Success (CAS).

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