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Avoiding Plagiarism: Using the Internet
- A Special Note -

The Internet makes academic research easier than it was in the past.  Online databases compile most of the publications relevant to particular fields and often provide scholarly articles.

Yet the Internet poses two problems. 

  • First, people often think that information located on the Internet is a public resource that is ‘free’ for all.  Remember, everything on the Internet has been written by and belongs to someone, so citation rules apply to information in it just as much as they do to information in an article or book. 
  • Second, it is often difficult to determine whether information on the Internet is appropriate for scholarly research.  Remember, anyone—including students and other nonprofessionals--with the proper technology can post information to the Internet, so it is important to evaluate web based information.

Citing Information on the Internet

If you quote, paraphrase or summarize information from the Internet, cite the web page from which it came.  Listing the link is not enough. Just as different print sources are cited in different ways, online sources are cited in distinct ways that identify them as being online and allow readers to trace the information back to the source.  You will need to refer to the style guide (see below; also see chapter on “Style Guides”) you are using to determine the correct form for the citation.

The flexibility of the Internet makes it easy to cut information from Web pages and paste it directly into documents.  Pasted text must be quoted and cited.  Do not put off this task; if you forget to cite pasted text that you had intended to take care of later, you have committed plagiarism.

You will find that the author and title of specific pages in a Web project may be difficult to find.  Often no specific person is the author, in which case the author might be the sponsoring organization or project.  You will have to be diligent if there is no obvious title for the page you are citing; the text of the link that led to this page might serve as a title or the page may have a section number or other identifying code.  The reader must be able to locate the page.  Your style guide will often provide suggestions on how to handle ambiguous situations (for more information, click here).

Style Guides that Focus on Online Sources Are Available

Online!: A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources:

APA Style Guide to Electronic Resources:

Chicago-Style Quick Guide

MLA Online Citation Summary:

Suitable Web Sites

Internet sites accessed through the Penn Libraries ( are suitable for scholarly purposes.  However, the Penn Libraries do not attempt to comprehensively cover public web pages that are useful for research.  The following sites are portals to web projects that have been reviewed by experts:

Librarians’ Internet Index:
Best for scholarly Web projects that compile and organize primary and secondary resources.

Scout Report Archives:
Similar to the Librarian’ Internet Index.

Google Scholar:
Best for scholarly articles and reports.

Google Uncle Sam:
Best for information and documents produced by the U.S. government.

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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