Using Sources

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The Hamilton College Honor Code states, "It is essential ... that every student understand the standards of academic honesty and how to avoid dishonesty by proper acknowledgment of intellectual indebtedness" (3). Drawing on the ideas of others as you develop your own is an essential and exciting component of intellectual work. Whenever you use other writers' ideas, however, you must acknowledge your sources. Doing so allows you to distinguish between your ideas and those of others; it directs your readers to relevant sources; and it allows you to give credit where credit is due.

This handout answers questions students often have concerning correct and effective use of sources.

Provide citations whenever you use

  • Direct quotations
  • Paraphrases and summaries
  • Borrowed ideas
  • Facts that are not common knowledge


Use quotation marks and a citation when you use another writer's exact words even when using only a short phrase. You must make clear to the reader which words are your own and which are another writer's. For direct quotations, citations alone are NOT sufficient; you must enclose the quoted material in quotation marks. When used judiciously, quotations serve a number of important functions in a well-crafted paper.

Select quotations that
  • Develop a step in your argument
  • Present striking, memorable phrasing
  • Provide a strong, specific example
  • Introduce a claim open to interpretation
  • Summarize an author's main points
When selecting quotations, avoid
  • Quoting details
  • Padding a thin argument with unnecessary quotations
  • Quoting commonly known information, e.g., "The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941."
  • Quoting blocks of text that could be summarized or quoted more selectively
  • Quoting information you could state in your own words


Paraphrasing is the rewriting of an author's idea in your own words. Paraphrase rather than quote when you want to present an author's idea but the exact language is not significant. When you paraphrase, you must cite the source. You also must fully rewrite the original language and original sentence structure. A common mistake is partial paraphrasing. Do not keep the author's exact wording or the same sentence structure. If you retain even a short phrase or a distinctive word, use quotation marks.

Incorrect and correct examples of paraphrasing:

When paraphrasing, you must rewrite the original language, change the original sentence structure, and cite the source according to the expectations of the discipline.

Original text

Descartes introduces the possibility that the world is controlled by a malicious demon who has employed all his energies to deceive him (Lu 24).

Incorrect paraphrase

Descartes suggests that the world is controlled by an evil demon who may be using his energies to deceive (Lu 24).

Comment: Plagiarism: even though the citation is provided, the sentence still has exact wording (italicized).

Correct paraphrase

Descartes suggests that the evil power who rules the world may be attempting to mislead him (Lu 24).

Comment: Not plagiarism: the language is fully rewritten, and a citation is provided.

Combination of paraphrase and quotation

Descartes suggests that the evil power who rules the world may be using “all his energies to deceive him” (Lu 24).

Comment: Not plagiarism: the paraphrased portion is fully rewritten, the exact language is quoted, and a citation is provided.

When paraphrasing, you must rewrite the original language, change the original sentence structure, and cite the source according to the expectations of the discipline.

Borrowed Ideas

Acknowledge sources from which you borrow ideas even when you don't directly quote the text. Borrowed ideas come in many forms, including original concepts, observations, data, and logic. Include a citation when you use:

  • Another author's tables, maps, or graphs
  • Another author's data, even if using the data for a different argument
  • The organization or logic of another author's argument

These guidelines include the use of reference materials such as encyclopedias and study aids, e.g., SparkNotes.

Common Knowledge

You do not need to cite an idea that is standard information of the discipline, such as material discussed in class or general information your reader knows or can locate easily (e.g., momentum equals mass times velocity, or Daniel Moi became president of Kenya in 1978). Such information is widely available and not disputed.

You do need to cite a fact that is not common knowledge, e.g, "Moi's election came after a heated succession struggle that allegedly included an assassination plot against Moi himself" (Karimi and Ochieng 1980: 109).

Beware of over-citing, which is usually the result of unnecessary citing of general knowledge or excessive reliance on source material.

Remember to check with your instructor if you are unsure whether to cite information.

Integrating Source Material

When introducing source material, avoid using a weak lead-in verb, e.g., "the author says"; instead, select a verb that conveys the author's attitude toward the material, e.g., "the author questions." Aim to integrate source material into your own argument; explain to your reader how the source material contributes to your analysis. Be sure to smoothly integrate the quotation into the surrounding language, matching the syntax of the quotation to the syntax of the surrounding statement.

Strategies for integrating source material:
  • Use a full independent clause of your own to introduce the source material:
    e.g., Morrow views personal ads as an art form: "The personal ad is like a haiku of self-celebration, a brief solo played on one's own horn."1

(Note that the colon is the correct internal punctuation here.)

  • Weave quoted text into the logic of your sentence:
    e.g., The author suggests using "a pricing mechanism that reflects the full social cost," which may be a viable, long term solution to resource depletion (Simon 1997: 54).

After you have presented the quotation or paraphrase, tie it your argument. Explain to your reader why the idea is significant in the context of your ideas.

Documentation Styles

Each discipline uses a style of documentation that best serves its purposes.
Humanities prefer parenthetical citation with author and page number (Flynn 41).
Sciences prefer parenthetical citation with author and year of publication (Beck 1999).
Social sciences prefer author, date, and page (Lu 1997: 156) when referring to a specific point in a text and author and date when referring to an entire text (Lu 1997).
Historians prefer footnotes to parenthetical citations.

For all forms of citation, you must provide a bibliographical list of sources used. The list is arranged alphabetically by author's last name and is called Works Cited, References, or Bibliography, depending on the documentation style used. The arrangement of information within each listing varies by documentation style.

For more information on the specifics of documentation styles, see suggested resources on page four and check with your professor.

Mechanics of Citation

  • For parenthetical citations, the citation follows the final quotation mark or the paraphrase, and the period follows the citation, e.g., "one's own horn" (Hacker 24).
  • For footnotes, the citation follows the period, e.g., "one's own horn."2
  • Use block quotation form for text longer than four lines: indent one inch from the left margin; use a normal right margin; do not single space or use quotation marks.

Collaborative Work/Acknowledging Help

An important component of your student experience is exploring ideas with peers inside and outside of the classroom. Some professors will ask you to collaborate with other students on an assignment. It is crucial that you understand on what parts of the assignment you can collaborate and what parts of the assignment you must complete independently (e.g., you may conduct a lab exercise and write lab notes with lab partners, but you must write the lab report entirely on your own). Be aware that collaboration without permission is a violation of the Honor Code.

The Hamilton College Honor Code requires that you acknowledge any help you receive on a class assignment. When you receive extensive help from others on assignments, include an Acknowledgments section at the end of your paper (e.g., "I thank Liz Evans for reading my draft and helping me to organize my ideas").

Develop Good Habits

Plagiarism often starts in the note-taking stage. As you take notes, distinguish between paraphrases and direct quotations. Copy quotations exactly as they appear, and record all the information you will need for citations and a list of references. To avoid confusion, some writers use only direct quotations when taking notes. If using an on-line source, do not cut and paste text directly into your own draft. Be conscientious and consistent in whatever note-taking strategy you use.

Further Information

Many handbooks of writing provide extensive advice on documentation, including:

Council of Science Editors. Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. 6th ed. Cambridge, UK: Council of Biology Editors, 1994.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999.

Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Style Manual. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2000.

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 6th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Materials available on-line and at the Writing Center:


The authors, Lisa Trivedi and Sharon Williams, wish to thank the writing tutors, the Honor Court members, and the following faculty for their help: C. Friend, M. Isserman, J. O'Neill, S. Orvis, P. Rabinowitz, D. Raybeck, P. Reynolds, E. Williams, and T. Wilson.

Works Cited

Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Style Manual. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2000.
Trustees of Hamilton College. The Hamilton College Honor Code. 2002.

1 Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual, 3rd ed. (Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2000): 73.
2 Ibid., 73.

Contact Information

Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center

Kirner-Johnson 152

Call to schedule appointment
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