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Academic Integrity and Plagiarism: How to Cite

A guide for helping students understand and avoid plagiarism.

What is a Citation?

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A "citation" is the way you tell your readers that certain material in your work came from another source. It also gives your readers the information necessary to find that source again, including: the author of the work, the title, the name and location of the company that published your copy of the source,the date your copy was published, the page numbers of the material you are borrowing.

This research guide will give you a brief overview of the most common citation styles and point you in the direction of more detailed resources and useful tools.

(image source: xkcd, used with permission CC by-nc)

Why Should I Cite Sources?

Giving credit to the original author by citing sources is the only way to use other people's work without plagiarizing. But there are a number of other reasons to cite sources:

  1. citations are extremely helpful to anyone who wants to find out more about your ideas and where they came from.
  2. not all sources are good or right -- your own ideas may often be more accurate or interesting than those of your sources. Proper citation will keep you from taking the rap for someone else's bad ideas.
  3. citing sources shows the amount of research you've done.
  4. citing sources strengthens your work by lending outside support to your ideas.

“What is Citation?” Accessed February 16, 2011.

Your Research is a Conversation

"The purpose of a research paper is to synthesize previous research and scholarship with your ideas on the subject. Therefore, you should feel free to use other persons' words, facts, and thoughts in your research paper, but the material you borrow must not be presented as if it were your own creation."

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th Edition. New York: MLA. 55. Print.


DOI, or "direct object identifier" is a way to track articles and electronic documents on the web. Whereas the URL of a journal may change over time, the DOI for each article always stays the same. is a resource for looking up DOIs based on limited citation information and, reversely, for looking up citation information based on a known DOI.


Special thanks to the 2013 Peer Mentors for helping update this guide. Helene, Melanie, Olivia, Rashad, and Sophia: you're the best!

Also, thanks to Butler University Libraries for letting us resuse their content.


There are quite a few different ways to cite resources in your paper. The citation style usually depends on the academic discipline involved. For example:

  • MLA style is typically used by the Humanities
  • APA style is often used by Education, Psychology, and Business.
  • Chicago is generally used by History and some of the Fine Arts

Check with your professor to make sure you use the required style. And whatever style you choose, BE CONSISTENT!

How To Read a Citation

The following examples of how to read a citation are in APA format, but the basic principle applies for MLA, Chicago and other styles as well. If you need help, contact a librarian. If you have a citation, use the Library Catalog to search for books by title or the A-Z Journal List to search for articles by journal title.

(adapted from LMU's Citation Style guide.)

Plagiarism: Real Life Examples

Using Citations to Avoid Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense.

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism. For more information, check out our Plagiarism Research Guide.

“What is Plagiarism?” Accessed February 16, 2011.