When you write at the college level, you often need to integrate material from published sources into your own writing. This means you need to be careful not to plagiarize: “to use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one’s own” (American Heritage Dictionary) or, in the words of the University of Wisconsin’s Academic Misconduct guide, to present “the words or ideas of others without giving credit” (“Plagiarism,” ¶ 1). The University takes plagiarism seriously, and the penalties can be severe. This handout is intended to help you use source materials responsibly and avoid plagiarizing by (a) describing the kinds of material you must document; (b) illustrating unsuccessful and successful paraphrases; (c) offering advice on how to paraphrase; and (d) providing guidelines for using direct quotations.
What You Must Document
If you use an author's specific word or words, you must place those words within quotation marks and you must credit the source.
Even if you use your own words, if you obtained the information or ideas you are presenting from a source, you must document the source.
Information: If a piece of information isn’t common knowledge (see #3 below), you need to provide a source.
Ideas: An author’s ideas may include not only points made and conclusions drawn, but, for instance, a specific method or theory, the arrangement of material, or a list of steps in a process or characteristics of a medical condition. If a source provided any of these, you need to acknowledge the source.
You do not need to cite a source for material considered common knowledge: General common knowledge is factual information considered to be in the public domain, such as birth and death dates of well-known figures, and generally accepted dates of military, political, literary, and other historical events. In general, factual information contained in multiple standard reference works can usually be considered to be in the public domain.
Field-specific common knowledge is “common” only within a particular field or specialty. It may include facts, theories, or methods that are familiar to readers within that discipline. For instance, you may not need to cite a reference to Piaget’s developmental stages in a paper for an education class or give a source for your description of a commonly used method in a biology report–but you must be sure that this information is so widely known within that field that it will be shared by your readers.
If in doubt, be cautious and cite the source. And in the case of both general and field-specific common knowledge, if you use the exact words of the reference source, you must use quotation marks and credit the source.
The way that you credit your source depends on the documentation system you’re using. If you're not sure which documentation system to use, ask the course instructor who assigned your paper. You can pick up a Writing Center handout or check our Web site (www.wisc.edu/writing) for the basics of several commonly used styles (American Political Science Association, APSA; American Psychological Association, APA; Chicago/Turabian; Council of Biology Editors, CBE; Modern Language Association, MLA; and Numbered References).
The Writing Center, 6171 White Hall, UW-Madison 1
Sample Paraphrases–Unsuccessful and Successful
Paraphrasing is often defined as putting a passage from an author into “your own words.” But what are your own words? How different must your paraphrase be from the original? The paragraphs below provide an example by showing a passage as it appears in the source (A), two paraphrases that follow the source too closely (B and C), and a legitimate paraphrase (D). The student’s intention was to incorporate the material in the original passage A into a section of a paper on the concept of “experts” that compared the functions of...