GEOG 438W
Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Lesson 5 Writing Symposium: When to Cite Sources

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One of the most difficult decisions that science or scholarly writers must make is when to cite sources. Sometimes there is no need to cite, but at other times, failing to cite makes the writer guilty of plagiarism. This writing symposium aims to provide guidance on when it is necessary to cite sources and when it is not.[1] The following writing symposium will present information on how to use citations (and feel free to peek ahead), and will be especially useful to you as you soon complete the first essay exam for the course.

For those of you for whom the era of ctrl c and ctrl v has been the only one in which you've operated as an academic student, it can be especially challenging to understand what and when to cite. A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, cite it. Most instructors would much rather see an excessively cited document than an under-cited one.

When To Cite

Always give credit when using:

  • another author’s idea, opinion, or theory;
  • facts, statistics, graphs, figures, etc.;
  • quotations of spoken or written words;
  • paraphrases of spoken or written words.

Quotation vs. Paraphrase

A quotation occurs when using someone’s words verbatim –– that is, word for word. There are two ways to quote another’s words. One way is to place the passage in quotation marks. The second way is to set the quoted material apart from the text, typically indenting and sometimes italicizing. Long quotations are also typically single-spaced. Use quotation marks when the quoted text is one sentence or less. An example is: “The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history” (Williams 1980, p.1). Set quoted material apart when it is two sentences or more. Do not use quotation marks when setting text apart.

The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants (Williams 1980, p.1).

In either case, when quoting text, always cite the source, documenting it using a standard reference style.

Note:

Physical and life science writing rarely uses quotes, but social science writing often does. In the physical and life sciences, writers typically paraphrase.

A paraphrase occurs when the writer uses someone else’s ideas, but puts them into the writer’s own words. Citing the source is still necessary. Some paraphrasing is unacceptable because it is too close to the original. The following presents the original text,[2] an unacceptable paraphrase, an acceptable paraphrase, and finally an acceptable paraphrase with an embedded quotation.

Original text:

The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry came urbanization and the growth of large cities (like Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade (Williams 1980, p.1).

Unacceptable paraphrase:

The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and the explosion of the population were three large factors of nineteenth century America. As steam-driven companies became more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities, like Fall River where the Bordens lived, which turned into centers of commerce and trade as well as production.

Why is this paraphrase unacceptable? It has three fatal flaws. First, it only changes a few words and phrases. Second, it only changes the order of original sentences. Finally, it fails to cite the source.

Acceptable paraphrase

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the US, they found work in these new factories. As a result, populations grew, and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams 1980).

Why is this paraphrase acceptable? It accurately relays the original passage's information; it puts the text into the paraphraser’s own words; and it cites the source of the information. Note that it is not necessary to cite the page number because there is no quotation.

Acceptable paraphrase and quotation:

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. As steam-powered production shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, the demand for workers “transformed farm hands into industrial laborers,” and created jobs for immigrants. In turn, growing populations increased the size of urban areas. Fall River was one of these hubs that “became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade” (Williams 1980, p. 1).

Why is this approach acceptable? It records the information accurately, it gives credit for ideas by using a citation, and it indicates the parts taken directly by using quotation marks and citing the page number from which the quoted material comes.

Strategies to get the citation right (and avoid plagiarism)

Always put in quotations all phrases taken directly from the original text. Feel free to paraphrase, but do not simply rearrange or replace a few words. Instead:

  1. read over what you want to paraphrase;
  2. look away from the text so you cannot see it;
  3. write the idea in your own words without peeking;
  4. include the citation.

When finished, check the paraphrase against original text, making sure that no complete phrases or uncommon words slipped in. Also, be sure that there is no inaccurate information.


[1] The material for this writing symposium comes from Peterson, J. (2004). Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid it. Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. Available at http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml. Used with permission of the author.

[2] The original text comes from Williams, J. (1980). Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s. Tichenor Publications, Bloomington, IN, p. 1.