Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 5: Academic Integrity and Documentation

Integrating Sources

In general, you should strive to make your presence known in your writing and not let your sources of information dominate the content. To do this, you must be the stage manager. You pointedly introduce the quotations, paraphrases, and summaries, selecting relevant evidence and creating context or interpreting importance for the reader. Thus, with your management, your reader becomes aware of the voices of other authorities. The following suggestions may help you avoid overusing your sources when you write:

  • Always introduce a paragraph with a sentence that you believe is your own thought on the subject matter. This sentence can be a topic sentence that makes a transition from the ideas of the preceding paragraph to new ideas or evidence or one that states a hypothesis that you want to prove within the paragraph.
  • Avoid long quotations that are not surrounded by your own interpretation or opinion. You should examine the number and nature of quotations after writing the paper to detect overuse or inappropriate use.
  • Avoid using sources you don’t understand because you will have to use someone else’s words to integrate the source into your paper.
  • Do not allow your readers to interpret too much on their own. Avoid the temptation to include uncommented-on quotations simply for effect.
  • Never include quotations that do not add to your paper’s argument, even though they may prove that you have done research. Even when your teacher requires you to refer to a specified number of outside resources, always include only those references that add value to your paper.

A good practice is to acknowledge all sources from which you borrow. However, you don’t need to cite sources for familiar proverbs or aphorisms, such as A stitch in time saves nine, Art imitates life, or Feed a cold; starve a fever. Nor do you need to cite sources for common knowledge, such as Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance at Ford’s Theater or The sum of the angles of any right triangle equals 180 degrees. An effective rule to follow is that if you are in doubt about whether to cite your source, you should cite it. This is a case when it is better to err on the side of caution than to leave out the appropriate documentation and possibly commit plagiarism.

Another kind of plagiarism is turning in a paper that you have purchased or borrowed from someone else or that you have written for a previous class or a current class. Such behavior is simply academic dishonesty in a broad form.

All colleges and universities have documented requirements for academic integrity that are stringently enforced. In general, the penalty for deliberate plagiarism is expulsion. In almost every instance (deliberate or inadvertent), if you plagiarize you will fail the course in which you plagiarized, and there may be other penalties. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to understand how it occurs and to plan your research assignments so that you always know what material you are using from other sources. If you have doubts about how to document sources, discuss them with your teacher, adviser, a librarian, or other college staff.