Skip to Main Content

ENG120: Prof. Joshi, Spring 2023

Why is Citing Sources so Complicated?

Citing the sources of information you used is not really hard; it just takes a bit of time. There are many different citation styles, but most students need to learn to follow the conventions of only MLA or APA. Style guides are about more than just citing sources of information or ideas. Guides can help you improve the style of your writing and avoid bias, for example.

What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without giving credit to the source. Many students plagiarize unintentionally, so make sure you know that plagiarism happens whenever you fail to include an in-text citation with a corresponding entry in your References or Works Cited pages. It doesn't matter if you use someone else's exact words (quote), paraphrase, or summarize: all these formats require citation. Also, citation or credit is required no matter where you find ideas or data. It doesn't matter if you're citing a peer-reviewed article, a book published by Yale University, a web site without an author, or a Tweet. All require credit. In higher education, plagiarism can lead to a failed grade or worse; in real life, it can lead to a damaged reputation or a job loss.

See our guide Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism for more detailed information.

For additional online resources, see Using Research  from the Purdue OWL, especially the sections titled Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing and Plagiarism FAQ.

Scholarly Conversation Requires Identifing Others' Ideas and Giving Credit

  • Authors whose work you cite must be given credit.
  • Your professors want to make sure you're using reputable, credible sources.
  • If people want to examine the data you use, they need to know where to find it. Make sure your citation gives the reader the information he or she needs to find the source you used.
  • If people want to trace the origins of your argument, they need to know where your ideas come from.
  • If you don't cite your sources, you could be accused of plagiarism. 

MLA Style Resources

Online Help for Citing Sources

The Excelsior Online Writing Lab
offers excellent instruction regarding various style guides, including MLA.


Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers popular instruction regarding various style guides.