Skip to Main Content

CIS 8080: Citing

Understanding Plagiarism - Tutorials

Why cite sources?

Writing a research paper means you are bringing your thoughts and opinions into the scholarly conversation on a particular topic and you'll be drawing from the thoughts and ideas that others have already written about the topic. It's important to give credit to those who have already written about topic - this helps your ideas stand out from theirs, and it allows others reading your paper to track back to where you get your ideas.  Your citations, both in text and in your reference list let readers trace the words and thoughts you're using back to their original source.

Proper citation and avoidance of plagiarism is one aspect of Academic Honesty. The Georgia State University Policy on Academic Honesty is available online.

When do I cite?

Often, a general rule that's stated is "if you're in doubt, cite it", and that can be a good place to start from. Some specific places you must use citations in your research:

  • When you directly quote someone: "He didn't fall? INCONCEIVABLE!" (Reiner, Princess Bride)  (Note: MLA format)
  • When you paraphrase something such as: "Inigo Montoya spent years chasing after Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, because Rugen had killed his father." (Reiner, 1987) (Note: APA format)
  • When you summarize the ideas from someone else's work:"Vizzini makes a strong case that the Man in Black is not trustworthy, considering what he knows of the Man in Black's character and the origins of iocane powder. Ultimately, though, Vizzini shows himself to be untrustworthy by switching the cups." (Reiner, 1987)

What not to cite?

Despite the "when and doubt, cite it" phrase that you may here, there are times you don't need to (or shouldn't) cite a work in your research.

  • Your own experiences and conclusions about a subject
  • Your results from field work or lab experiments
  • Your own artwork, videos, etc.
  • "Common knowledge", things like folklore and historical events. "The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776" is common knowledge, but if you were using the text of the document itself, you would cite it.
  • Generally accepted facts - "The molecular structure of water is H2O". This can be extended to generally accepted facts within your field.

For the last two in particular, if you are unsure about whether an item is considered common knowledge or an accepted fact, go ahead and either ask your instructor or include a citation. It's better to be more cautious than less.

Finally, you should also never include citations for works you didn't actually use for your research.

Citation Resources

Save time

Use software to manage your sources - download citations from library databases; export the bibliography into your paper.

EndNote is a free download for GSU students, faculty and staff.


Zotero was developed by historians to support historical and related research. It is a free Firefox plugin.
Zotero guide

Features comparison chart: Zotero, Endote and others