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Political Science & International Studies Resources: Writing and Citing

Why do We Cite?

You need to cite whenever you use an idea, thought or quotation from someone else or another source. Cite when you:

  • use the ideas or research of another person or entity.
  • use direct quotations that are written or spoken
  • paraphrase written or spoken material
  • use information that is not common knowledge

To give credit to the original author and to help you avoid plagiarism

Whenever you use an idea, thought or quote from someone else or another source, you must give credit for the idea to the original author.  If you do not give credit, you will be committing plagiarism, a serious offense in any academic community.  The reader of your research or paper will think, incorrectly, that you have come up with that creative, original idea yourself.  To ensure copyright use these tools to credit and let the reader know the source of your thoughts and research.

To create a path for you and your readers to find and read your sources

If you, or your readers, want to to go back and read any of the sources that you used for your paper, a proper citations gives everyone all the information to find the articles, books, and websites that you used.

To give you credibility

Good citations give you credibility.  A reader can look at your bibliography and see what sources you used and where you found them.  Citations tell the reader that you did your research and put time into your paper making you more believable.

Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Avoid it


Used with permission from Nina Paley and Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


Plagiarism is a serious offense that can cause you to earn a zero on a paper, fail a course, or, worst case scenario, to get kicked out of school.

There are four types of plagiarism, of which two you are most likely aware and two you are not:

  1. Intentionally or unintentionally taking someone's words and/or ideas word-for-word and claiming them as your own
  2. Intentionally or unintentionally paraphrasing someone's words and/or ideas and claiming them as your own
  3. "Recycling" a paper or project, meaning that you turn in a paper more than once to different professors in different classes
  4. Taking portions of your own previous work and not citing yourself, despite the fact that your paper is unpublished and that it is your work to begin with

In order to avoid losing a grade, failing a class, or getting the boot from university, just make it a habit that you will cite your sources as you collect them for your research, even if you don't actually end up using them.  This way you won't find yourself in a position where you have the information, but not the source information (authors, title, publication information, pages numbers, etc.) to cite.

Also, citing your sources makes you a better researcher.  It helps you understand why we have standards for citation.  For example, the address to my apartment is based on a standard that we all understand:

number and street name, apt. #
city, state, zip code. 

Citations work exactly the same way; they provide standard information so that anyone can locate a source of information. 

Once you begin to create the citations, you will notice the patterns within the different formulae to help you distinguish, just by looking at a citation, whether it refers to a book, a journal article or a website...just like the address has different patterns to tell us whether we are being directed to a house, an apartment, or a business suite.


Just Because Your Put It In Your Own Words...

lehmanlibrary (2014, April 23). Just because you put it in your own words... [Video file]. Retrieved from