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Library 101

Helpful Terms

Citation: Bibliographic information for a source

Citation Style: A set of instructions for formatting citations, bibliographies, and other elements of your paper; common examples include MLA and APA

Plagiarism: Passing off someone else's words or ideas as your own

Common Knowledge: Widely accepted information that is available in many sources and does not require a citation

Quoting: Directly reproducing someone else's words and surrounding them with quotation marks

Paraphrasing: Rewriting a passage in your own words

Reference List: List of sources at the end of the paper

Summarizing: Condensing someone else's major points using your own words

Works Cited Page: List of sources at the end of the paper

Parts of a Citation

1. Why Cite?


Why Cite?

Give Credit

Giving credit to the original source's author(s) acknowledges their ideas.

Establish Credibility

Citing shows that you've done your research.

Help Your Readers

Citations guide readers to other sources on the same topic.

Participate in the Conversation

Show how your work fits into your field of study.

Avoid Plagiarism

Taking someone else's words or ideas as your own can lead to serious consequences.

Thank you to Middlebury Libraries for some of these ideas.

2. How Do I Avoid Plagiarism?

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Transcript of the video

Plagiarism means passing off someone else's work as your own. It's probably the most basic way you can fail to acknowledge other people's contributions.

Plagiarism is always wrong. It's not wrong like mugging someone or setting their house on fire is wrong, but it is wrong, and serious plagiarism is often grounds for failing a class, being expelled, or getting fired. So plagiarism is a big deal, and you need to do what it takes to avoid it.

There are two kinds of plagiarism: intentional and unintentional.

Intentional plagiarism refers to blatantly taking someone else's work and pretending it's yours. There is no gray area here, and the scope of the copying doesn't matter much. Even if it's only a sentence, if you do it deliberately, it's intentional plagiarism.

What motivates a person to blatantly plagiarize someone else's work is something for psychologists to figure out, but, here, we'll just make the point that instances of blatant plagiarism are surprisingly common. Most writing instructors could tell you stories of breathtaking plagiarism, and an alarming number of respected newspapers and magazines have been forced to issue apologies and retractions after deliberate copying by professional journalists has been uncovered.

Bottom line: intentional and blatant plagiarism is pretty common, but it's easy to avoid, and you should avoid it.

Things get a little murkier when we start talking about unintentional plagiarism, which is typically more subtle.

You don't have to directly copy someone else's words without crediting them to be plagiarizing.

Unintentional plagiarism rarely involves direct copying. It's more often a case of implying someone else's ideas are your own. Even if you rewrite all the words, if you don't acknowledge the source of the idea, it's plagiarism. Same thing if you change the words but keep someone else's basic sentence structure—it's plagiarism. And doing it unintentionally is no excuse.

So how do you avoid unintentionally plagiarizing? The short answer is you use citations.


Notes from the video

  • Plagiarism is passing off someone else's words or ideas as your own.
  • Plagiarism is always wrong.
  • There are two types of plagiarism: intentional and unintentional.
  • How can you avoid plagiarism? Use citations.

More information is available on the Everett Library's plagiarism guide

3. Two Kinds of Citations

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Transcript of the video

In the narrow sense, a citation refers to bibliographic information for one of your sources. Citations can be "in-text," which means they occur inside your paper, or they can occur in a list at the end of your paper. Lists of citations are referred to by various names, including bibliographies, works cited, and references. In-text citations aren't usually very detailed. They typically contain just enough information for a reader to identify the source from the list at the end. Citations in that list, on the other hand, contain all of the information a reader would need to track down the source itself.

Exactly what information you should include in both kinds of citations varies according to citation style, which is a set of instructions for formatting all kinds of things in your paper, including, unsurprisingly, citations. Two of the most common citation styles are APA and MLA, but there are a bunch of others, and you should make sure you know which one your instructor wants you to use.

We won't get into the various requirements of different citation styles here because you'd never remember them, and, in any case, they're always changing and you should get in the habit of consulting the various style manuals. You can usually find the latest versions of these at the library.

4. Things to Cite and Common Knowledge

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Transcript of the video

Pretty much everything that's not yours has to be cited. Songs have to be cited, as do advertisements, videos, graphics, interviews, photographs, podcasts, blogs, tweets, pins, status updates, and all other sources. When you're using information from outside sources, the type of source doesn't matter; the information needs to be cited. And it generally doesn't matter what kind of information it is—if it's not yours, it should be cited.

However, there is one exception to this general principle, and that's when the information is considered common knowledge. If you're using information available in so many places that it can't be tied to any single source, it may be common knowledge.

Common knowledge certainly covers basic facts such as "California is in the Pacific Time Zone" and "Shakespeare wrote Hamlet." But it also covers things that almost everyone agrees on, even if they're not, strictly speaking, facts. An example of this second kind of common knowledge could be something like "The collapse of the housing bubble in the United States was one of the causes of the 2008 financial crisis."

It doesn't matter if you personally didn't know this before you discovered it in your research; the point is it's so widely accepted it probably doesn't require a citation.

There will be cases when it's unclear whether or not particular pieces of information should be considered common knowledge. For example, if you strengthened the comment about the housing market to something like "The collapse of the U.S. housing market was the primary cause of the 2008 financial crisis," things get fuzzier. While that probably is still the consensus (the disagreement is focused primarily on what caused the housing bubble in the first place), the statement feels too strong and specific to be considered common knowledge.

In borderline cases, always err on the side of including a citation. Because while it's true too many citations can be distracting and a bit annoying, that's preferable to unintentionally plagiarizing.

Notes from this video

All information that is not created by you should be cited.  You are responsible for citing the information correctly regardless of the format.  Look in your citation manuals to identify the rules for all formats of information.

Common knowledge is information that is widely available in many places and information that everyone agrees on.  Statements that are too specific or too strong to be identified as common knowledge require a citation.

More information about common knowledge

5. Incorporating Sources in Your Writing

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One way of bringing in evidence from outside sources while maintaining your own voice is to introduce those sources in a way that calls attention to the things in those sources that you believe are the most important.

Think of your sources as witnesses in a trial. If you've seen any courtroom dramas, you know attorneys don't just call witnesses to the stand and start asking them questions. Instead, they take time to establish the witnesses' credentials. For example, a defense attorney might tell the jury that the witness in a murder trial is a graduate of Harvard Medical School with 25 years' experience in traumatic head injuries. Introductions like these not only highlight the witness's expertise, but they also allow the defense attorney to connect the witness's expertise to the story the attorney is telling, the story they believe is most likely to convince the jury to acquit their client.

You can apply the same principle with sources in your paper. Let's say you're arguing that athletes should not be banned from professional sports leagues when they have been accused of domestic violence. If you found a legal expert who agreed with you, then they'd probably be worth quoting. But in order to avoid alienating readers who believed that leagues should crack down hard on domestic violence, you would likely want to play up anything in your expert's background that showed they appreciated the seriousness of the problem. If they had previously advocated on behalf of domestic violence victims and spoken out for women's rights, you should consider mentioning that in your introduction. By foregrounding such details, you would be telling the story you believe is most likely to win over skeptical readers.

Another way that introducing your sources helps you maintain your voice is by giving you the opportunity to clearly separate what you've written from the material you're borrowing. This is especially true in cases where you are not quoting directly from sources and hence not using quotation marks. Simply dropping a citation—like (Brown, 2013, p. 46)—into a long paragraph won't clarify for your reader where your borrowing starts and ends. Introducing your source can solve that problem, as this example shows:

According to award-winning children's therapist Margaret Brown, play therapy is one of the best strategies for determining whether a child has been abused (2013, p. 46).

See that? You've introduced your source in a way that plays up relevant credentials, and you've made very clear—even without quoting—what's you and what's your source.

Notes from this video

  • It is important to verify the authority and expertise of your sources.
  • Including this information in your research will provide support for your argument and can be persuasive.


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Transcript - Summarizing

Summarizing refers to the process of identifying someone else's major points and writing them, in an abbreviated form, in your own words. As with all such borrowing, summarizing requires a citation, though often the citation will be to an entire article and not a specific page.

Summarizing borrowed material is a good way to bring in useful points from outside sources while keeping your own voice strong. That's because when you summarize, you are making a series of choices about what you feel are the things most worth summarizing. You are telling your readers what you found interesting or most relevant in someone else's work. If 10 people summarized the same article, you'd inevitably end up with 10 different summaries: what seemed essential to one person may seem unimportant to another, and, at the very least, the language they used in their summaries would differ.

Summarizing, then, is an effective way to guide your readers through someone else's thoughts, ideas, or insights while leaving yourself plenty of room to comment on what is most interesting and relevant to your own argument.

Transcript - Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is another good way of bringing in information from outside sources while maintaining your own voice.

Paraphrasing is like summarizing in that it involves choosing what's most useful and relevant about someone else's work, expressing it in your own words, and telling your readers—via citations—where you got it.

But it's different from summarizing in terms of scope and purpose. When you are summarizing, you're usually trying to capture the main points of an argument that may run several pages long. However, when you're paraphrasing, you're generally trying to capture something specific in a paragraph or even a sentence or phrase. In practice, this means your paraphrase is likely to run almost as long as the passage you're paraphrasing, which you should guide readers to by including specific page numbers in your citation.

Another difference between paraphrasing and summarizing is that when you're paraphrasing, the words you choose are crucial. When you're summarizing entire articles, you can often get away with using pretty generic language. But when you're paraphrasing, you're trying to express something more specific and in many cases more subtle and nuanced. So words matter, and they must be your words.

So always err on the side of changing too much rather than too little when you're paraphrasing. And remember to cite.

Notes from summarizing and paraphrasing

  • Summarizing is condensing someone else's major points using your own words.
  • Paraphrasing is rewriting a passage in your own words.
  • Remember to always use citations when you summarize and paraphrase.



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Transcript - Quoting

Like summarizing and paraphrasing, quoting can provide a way to incorporate useful information or perspectives from outside sources without diluting your own voice. But unlike summarizing and paraphrasing, quoting means using someone else's exact words. That's what makes it a quote. You signal to your readers what exactly you're quoting by putting quotation marks around it. With quotations, you would, wherever possible, include a specific page number in your citation.

Quoting outside sources directly can be an important tool in writing a persuasive paper. However, because you're using other people's words, too much quoting will make it difficult for you to maintain your own voice. If you quote entire paragraphs or if every other sentence contains someone else's words, there's a risk of dilution.

You can reduce the risk of dilution by quoting only selectively. There will be exceptions, but, in general, you should only quote something when the language is especially memorable or vivid. When you quote only these kinds of phrases, you are signaling to your readers that you are still in charge and that you are thinking carefully about what is and isn't worth quoting. That's not true when you quote generic phrases, things that could easily be captured in a paraphrase. Then, you're needlessly inserting someone else's voice, and your voice is diluted.

As with summaries and paraphrases, you should make clear to your readers what you believe is important in the passages you quote and how they connect to your argument. When you're quoting entire paragraphs, or even sentences, you're not really highlighting what's most memorable or vivid in a passage. Consequently, you should always consider quoting just phrases or even individual words.

For example, a proponent of vouchers might say something like this in response to a law prohibiting any public funding of vouchers:

"I'm disappointed that some legislators took the easy road and did the bidding of their union masters."

The memorable parts of that sentence are probably "the easy road" and "the bidding of their union masters." The rest is fairly uninteresting, and you're unlikely to gain much by quoting the whole sentence. Quoting individual phrases like this will allow you to bring in what's memorable while still maintaining your own voice. For example:

Senator Smith is a woman who rarely leaves you guessing as to her true thoughts. When asked what she thought of the recent legislation, she replied with typical candor, accusing her colleagues across the aisle of taking "the easy road" and doing "the bidding of their union masters."

Notes from the video - Quoting 

  • Remember to quote selectively.  
  • Use quotes when the words are memorable and vivid.


5. Citation Style Manuals at the Help Desk in Everett Library

6. Creating Citations


Zotero is a powerful tool for collecting and organizing research information and sources. It is designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references, such as books and articles.

When you download Zotero and create an account you will have a plug-in for your browser that will collect bibliographic information for all items you view on your browser, including articles from databases, websites, books from the library catalog, videos, and music. It is very easy to use. Once you have the plug-in added, you just click the report icon that looks like a sheet of paper. Zotero will also act as a plug-in in Microsoft Word and show up in your tool bar. You will automatically be able to insert in-text citations and then create reference lists for all the citations you have used when you are finished writing your paper.  

If you need help with utilizing this helpful tool, ask a librarian!


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