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Knowing When to Use Citations
When do you need to use a citation?
- When quoting.
- When paraphrasing someone else's ideas.
- When using statistics.
- When using someone else's work as a theoretical framework / interpretive lens.
- When you are relying upon data collected by someone else.
- When you are relying upon opinions or interpretations articulated by someone else.
- When it will strengthen your argument to support your assertions by demonstrating that experts accept the validity of those assertions.
When do you not need to use citations?
- When stating common knowledge (knowledge that can be found in many sources other than those in the bibliography).
- If you aren't sure that something is common knowledge, it probably isn't.
- When the ideas, opinions, interpretations are your own (although it strengthens your case if you are able to cite others who would agree with you or whose work leads to similar conclusions).
Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
Plagiarism is the ultimate form of academic dishonesty. It is trying to pass someone else's work and/or words off as your own.
Most students realize that they are not supposed to quote from another author's work without a citation. However, many students do not realize that paraphrasing an author without a citation is also plagiarism.
When in doubt, cite your source. It is better to look unoriginal than to look dishonest.
What is paraphrasing?
Paraphrasing is when you take someone else's thoughts and restate them in your own words. In paraphrasing, although the words are your own, the ideas are someone else's. Therefore, if you do not cite the author you are paraphrasing, you are guilty of plagiarism.
But if I have a lot of citations, doesn't it look like I haven't done any of my own thinking?
You need to be sure to include your own analysis because you should be actively contributing to the academic "conversation." However, scholarship is ultimately a communal activity.
Academic Integrity Code
By enrolling at American University and registering for classes, you (as a student) acknowledge your commitment to the Academic Integrity Code. Make sure that you are familiar with the standards set forth either explicitly or implicitly in this Code.
Academic Integrity Resources
This page lists resources that may help you avoid plagiarism by learning to cite properly. Find information about term paper mills, detecting plagiarism, and copyright and fair use.
Citations in Action
Citations not only locate a piece of writing within the context of a particular schoarly debate, they also allow writers to make claims based on the authority of another expert.
- For example, a scientist researching the possibility of AIDS vaccines may rely on some data gathered by the Center for Disease Control. By using a citation, the scientist tells the reader that the data came from another source; the reader can accept the authority of the the named source, or use the citation information to check the accuracy of the original data.
- Similarly in the Humanities, a scholar analyzing Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice may cite a philosopher or literary critic. This allows the scholar to identify the type of interpretive lens / theoretical framework being brought to the analysis without having to re-create the entire philosopy.
Explore the image below -- mouseover the targets to learn more about how, when, and why citations are used in academic writing.