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Researching and Writing a Paper: Citations - the best anti-plagiarism tool!

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders [sic] of Giants”.
Isaac Newton, 5 February 1675CE
(and earlier by Bernard of Chartres, prior to 1124CE, and probably by others before him).

Isaac Newton is one of the giants of physics and mathematics, working when science was just beginning to be more than a branch of philosophy. He was a genius, and knew it, but he still recognized the debt that he owed to earlier scholars and researchers. Bernard of Chartres was a twelfth-century philosopher and scholar who also recognized the debt owed to earlier scholars. No one comes up with an original idea completely by themselves, there is always an influence from earlier writings, conversations, and research. It is important to recognize that influence.

It is important to cite the sources you used in your research for several reasons:

  • Citations give credit to the people whose words or ideas you are using. In the United States and elsewhere it is very important for scholars to recognize that their work is based on the work of others, giving credit to other researchers and acknowledging their ideas.
  • Citations allow your readers to learn more about your topic, beginning with reading your sources. The more easily your readers can find your citations the more easily they can educate themselves.
  • Listing the sources you acquired your ideas and facts from shows your readers that you researched the topic. Citations make your work more believable, and they indicate a respect for the people whose ideas or words you are using.
  • Citations enable you to avoid plagiarism by making it clear whose words and ideas were important in writing your paper.

If you properly cite every quote or paraphrase in your paper it is impossible to commit plagiarism. Plagiarism is presenting someone else's work or ideas as your own (whether it happens intentionally or unintentionally). A citation tells the reader where a quotation or idea (paraphrase) comes from, providing a reference to a specific book, paper, or author. Therefore, if you provide a citation for every idea or fact that you use - whether you use it as a quote or a paraphrase - it is not possible to plagiarize.

Note: Probably the most common reason that plagiarism happens is when a writer gets their notes about a text (what the article, book, video, etc., said about your topic) mixed up with the questions and thoughts that reading that text helped them to have. To prevent this you should always write down the citation for the text first, before you take any notes. Then write your notes about the text separately - such as on one side of the page, or in different colors, or in a separate document, etc. - from the questions and thoughts that text helped you think of.  When you write your paper make sure that when you discuss your own ideas about your topic that you also provide the quote or paraphrase (and its in-text citation) that helped you come up with those ideas. (You can mention your own idea(s) before or after you refer to the place in the text that prompted you to have that idea - as long as your reader easily understands that your idea is related to a specific idea from a specific book, paper, article, etc., that you read and cited.)

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