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Citing Web Sources Avoiding Plagiarism

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Plagiarism is the act of using another person's ideas or writing as your own. Typically, when you write a research paper, you use primary and secondary sources to support your original ideas and interpretations. Consulting such sources and using them to help you write your paper is appropriate—as long as you keep a few simple things in mind.

1. Paraphrase.

When you paraphrase, you summarize or restate an author's ideas in your own words. This does not mean that you can change a few words and call the work your own. The example below shows the difference between a plagiarized paragraph and a paraphrased one.

Original Paragraph: from "Hunting Hurricanes" by Susan Pilár de la Hoz

    Among other equipment, hurricane hunters use a dropsonde. This is a small, round tube. It is dropped into the eye of the hurricane. A parachute at the top of the tube opens and slows it down. The dropsonde falls toward the ocean. It picks up information about the storm. It then radios this information back to the plane.

Plagiarized Paragraph

    Among other instruments, hurricane hunters use a dropsonde. A dropsonde is a small, round tube that is dropped into the eye of the hurricane. A parachute at the top of the tube opens and slows it down. As the dropsonde detects information about the storm, it radios that information back to the hurricane hunters in the plane.

Paraphrased Paragraph

    Hurricane hunters use a variety of instruments to detect information about a hurricane. One of these instruments, the dropsonde, is a small, round device with a built-in parachute. When the dropsonde is launched from the plane, the parachute opens, slowing down the dropsonde. As the dropsonde falls into the eye of the hurricane, it transmits data about the storm back to the hurricane hunters in the plane. (de la Hoz, par. 5)

Although the writer of the plagiarized paragraph replaced and deleted a few words and phrases, that person did not summarize the original source in his or her own words. Additionally, the writer did not credit the original source. By contrast, the writer of the paraphrased paragraph did both.

2. Put quotation marks around others' original ideas.

Sometimes, an author expresses an idea so well that you'll want to quote the passage in your report. Direct quotations can be used to:

  • provide concrete evidence to support your ideas.
  • express an idea in a more precise or vivid way.
  • make a powerful statement.

Whether you're quoting longer passages, one sentence, or just a few short phrases—make sure you always enclose others' words in quotation marks.

Depending on the length of your paper, you'll probably want to include direct quotations from several different sources. However, remember to use them sparingly. Your report primarily should reflect your own ideas and interpretations—not the ideas of others.

3. Always cite the source.

Simply paraphrasing or putting quotations around an author's ideas is not enough. In addition, you must always credit the original source in the body of the text and in a Works Cited list at the end of your report.

Tip: If you're creating a multimedia project, you might want your report to include graphics or video clips that you find on the Web. Just like online text, Web media elements are copyrighted material. Their sources must also be properly cited.

Next: Citation Guidelines and Examples