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Avoiding Plagiarism: When in Doubt, Cite

What does it mean to “cite” a source?

In writing a paper, it means:

  • Showing, in the body of your paper, where the words or information came from, using an appropriate format;


  • Providing complete information about the source (author, title, date, etc.) using an appropriate format, in a bibliography or footnote.

In giving an audio visual presentation, it means:

  • Acknowledging on your slide where the graph, chart or other information came from (author and date)


  • Depending on the audience, saying the name and date of the source.

Why should I cite my sources?

  • To show your readers that you have done your research.
  • To give credit to others for work they have done.
  • To point your readers to sources that may be useful to them.
  • To allow your readers to check your sources, if there are questions.

Citing your sources points the way for other scholars. You may cite a source that is of particular interest to a reader who wants to read more on your subject. Your citation will help that reader locate the information quickly.


What should I cite?

  • Print sources: books, journal articles, magazine articles, newspapers - any material published on paper.
  • Electronic sources: web pages, articles from online newspapers and journals, articles retrieved from databases like LexisNexis and ProQuest, government documents, newsgroup postings, graphics, e-mail messages and web logs (i.e., any material published or made available on the Internet).
  • Recorded material: television or radio programs, films, filmed discussions, panels, seminars, interviews or public speeches.
  • Spoken material: personal conversations, interviews, information obtained in lectures, poster sessions or scholarly presentations of any kind.
  • Images: charts, graphs, tables, data, illustrations, architectural plans and photographs.

Do I have to cite facts and statistics?

Any time you refer to facts, statistics or other specific information pertinent to your topic, you must tell your reader where you got them; that is, you must cite your source. Not all pieces of specific information need to be cited, however. If the information is ?common knowledge,? you do not need to cite it.


How do I cite?  What style should I use? 

Each discipline has a preferred style of formatting. Ask your instructor which style he or she prefers. Each style is usually referred to by its initials.

MLA– Modern Language Association Style is often used in the arts and humanities.

APA– American Psychological Association Style is often used in economics, psychology, and political science.

CMS– Chicago Manual of Style is often used in architecture, urban planning and history.

CBE– Council of Science Editors Style is often used in biology and other sciences.

For additional examples and information on citation, see the Penn Library web site at

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This guide has been adapted from one produced at MIT entitled Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:  A Handbook for Students.  We are grateful for their permission to use and revise the work for students at the University of Pennsylvania.

Written by Patricia Brennecke, Lecturer in English Language Studies
Edited by Professor Margery Resnick, Chair of the Committee on Discipline, and Joanne Straggas, Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education.  Prepared with the support of Professor Robert P. Redwine, Dean for Undergraduate Education at MIT.

Adapted in Fall 2006 for use by graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania and published as the Handbook for Students, Ethics and Original Research by Professor Barbara Fuchs, Romance Languages, Dr. James B. Lok, Professor of Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Linda Meiberg, graduate student and Karen Lawrence, Assistant Director of Education.

This edition edited, amended and produced by:

The University Honor Council and the
Office of Student Conduct
University of Pennsylvania
Fall 2008