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Academic & Research Integrity: Avoiding Plagiarism: When to Cite Your Sources

This is a guide for learning more about academic and research integrity, both in a general sense and specific to the policies at WPI.

When Do You Cite?

Research involves the use of others' ideas, and the primary ways to incorporate sources into your work are through the following:

  • direct quotations (put quotation marks around the text from the source)
  • paraphrasing/summarizing (put the ideas from that source into your own words) 

Whether you are using direct quotations or paraphrasing, you need to credit your source in order to avoid plagiarism. This takes the form of both in-text citations and works cited at the end of your paper. The section "Avoiding Plagiarism: How to Cite Your Sources" on the left-hand side of this page, will take you to a full citation guide that discusses different citation styles, as well as tools you can use to help you cite more efficiently.

If you have any questions at all about citing your sources, please stop by our offices (202A-202C on the main floor of the library), email us at, or fill out a research consultation request form to set up a meeting here.

When Not to Cite

There are two main instances when you do not need to cite sources in your work:

  • When you are writing about your own ideas or original research
    • *If you are describing ideas or quoting from another paper you wrote, you do need to cite that as well, to avoid self-plagiarism (see the video on the main 'plagiarism' page for more information on self-plagiarism)
  • When you are describing 'common knowledge'
    • Common knowledge is broadly defined as information an average, educated reader would know, and generally encompasses a few different categories:
      • Widely-known facts (the molecular structure of water and the temperature at which it freezes, for example)
      • Information shared between members of a certain field or discipline: depending on who your audience is, widely known information within a certain field does not need to be cited. Your mathematics professor will likely not need certain well-known theorems to be cited, for instance. Still, it is always best to double check with your professor before submitting any final paper.
      • Information shared within a certain cultural or national group: this usually takes the form of well-known events in the nation's history.
      • When you are determining whether or not something is common knowledge, think about your audience and what you can assume they already know. When in doubt, cite your source (or ask a librarian!).

Paraphrasing - Use Your Own Words

Paraphrasing depends on your depth of understanding of your source material. It is not simply changing a few words from the original text, or changing the sentence structure a bit. If the paraphrase is too close to the original wording of the text, it counts as plagiarism. Here are a couple of tips to help you paraphrase material more successfully:

  • Hand-write your notes instead of typing them, and try and do it without transcribing the text directly. If you can, take notes on different sources from memory, and try and describe the ideas rather than the exact terms.
  • Build up your vocabulary, in general and in your specific discipline. You will do this naturally as you are reading and researching for your coursework, but the library also has several dictionaries (some discipline-based) that can help you become more familiar with particular terminology, located here.

Remember to cite your sources when paraphrasing!