Citing Sources Effectively

Research writing requires you to incorporate outside sources with your own ideas. Effective, ethical use of sources can increase your knowledge about a subject, build your ethos as a writer, and allow you to become part of the larger conversations within your discipline.

Incorporating Sources

When utilizing outside sources, be sure to integrate the information with your own ideas. Although you may understand how a source supports or more fully clarifies your own work, your audience needs you to explicitly explain these connections. Framing outside information will make your work more effective and also help you avoid accidental plagiarism:

Evaluating Sources

When choosing what work to utilize in your research, focus on finding credible, reliable sources. This will make your own work more informed and accurate, and also help establish credibility with your audience. Be aware of the conventions in your field of study – what do readers in your field value? What publications and authors are considered credible and reliable? Consider the following when evaluating sources:

Citing Sources in Academic Work

As a member of an academic community, you have a responsibility to credit the sources you use in your research writing. Citation conventions vary across disciplines, and it is important to become familiar with the expectations in your particular field of study. Additionally, ideas about intellectual property vary from culture to culture, so what may be considered fair use in one location may be thought of as plagiarism in another. Generally speaking, you should credit all sources in your research, using the citation style appropriate to your field (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago Style, etc.) whether you quote directly, paraphrase, or summarize what you have read.

To maintain academic integrity you must cite the sources you use in all three of these cases.

Academic Integrity

Always represent yourself honestly in your academic work and be transparent about where the ideas you are using originate. In some rhetorical traditions, there is not as much emphasis placed upon documenting sources used in research; however, in the conventions of American research writing, clearly citing outside work is imperative. Failing to cite sources, or to use them fairly and properly, can result in charges of academic dishonesty or plagiarism, which may carry serious repercussions and consequences.


Plagiarism can be defined as using someone else’s words or ideas without properly identifying the source.  Plagiarism can carry dire consequences for students who engage in it, including failing grades for the assignment or course, and in some cases, suspension. There are three basic types of plagiarism that can compromise a student’s academic integrity:

When Citation is NOT Necessary

In some cases, you may not need to cite a source, for instance, when referring to your own personal experiences or thoughts, original research you have conducted yourself, or when you use common knowledge or widely accepted facts. What constitutes “common knowledge” may vary widely, but is generally considered to be a fact that is easily accessible and consistent across many sources (e.g. the Declaration of Independence was ratified in 1776). However, if you directly quote information, even if it is about “common knowledge,” you must still cite that source. Generally speaking, when in doubt, cite the source.

Research can be seen as a conversation between various researchers and audiences. By framing the sources you use, you put your own ideas into dialogue with the ideas of others while clearly giving them credit. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge the sources you use and to cite them clearly. Be aware of the citation and research conventions in your field of study, and what will be meaningful and credible to your audience. By incorporating reliable sources into your work, you enter the dialogue of your discipline as a participatory member, and by citing your sources fairly, you establish yourself as an ethical member of that community.

Howe Writing Initiative ‧ Farmer School of Business ‧ Miami University

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