After using other sources to gain information for a report or paper, you might decide to use that information in your paper. If the ideas expressed in your paper are not your original thoughts, you must cite where you obtained that information. If you do not cite where you obtained your information, you are plagiarizing. Plagiarizing is an extreme offense. If you are caught plagiarizing in school you usually will receive a failing grade on the assignment, if not in the entire course. You could also risk being expelled from school. If you are caught plagiarizing in the workplace, it could likely end up costing you your job. If you are a researcher and plagiarize in a scientific paper, your university may lose funding. To avoid the risk of plagiarism, make sure that you cite copied information! The most common forms of citation are direct quotations and summarizing or paraphrasing. After a direct quote or at the end of a summarized or paraphrased thought, you should cite the author and page number of your source. Information on how to cite sources can be found in The Writer’s Handbook: Summary and Citations. If you are using other sources in your report and are unsure whether or not you need to use citations, it is better to be safe than sorry, so cite the information.
The two most common standards for citing are MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association). Each is specific to the field in which the research is done. For example, if you are researching for a psychology class, it is most likely going to be cited in APA format. On the other hand, MLA is used in the liberal arts and humanities fields. Nonetheless, check with the teacher, group, or organization for which the research is being done to find out which method you are expected to use.
Using and correctly citing outside sources is hugely important to the ethical portrayal of you as a writer. It shows that you have done your homework, literally. It also shows that you are a thoughtful writer who takes this work or subject seriously, who respects the hard work of others, and who truly contemplates the intricacies of research and discovering truth in writing.