The Writing Center, 6171 White Hall, UW-Madison
Acknowledging, Paraphrasing, and Quoting Sources
When you write at the college level, you often need to integrate material from published sources into your own
This means you need to be careful not to plagiarize: “to use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another)
as one’s own” (
American Heritage Dictionary)
or, in the words of the University of Wisconsin’s
guide, to present “the words or ideas of others without giving credit” (“Plagiarism,” ¶ 1).
University takes plagiarism seriously, and the penalties can be severe.
This handout is intended to help you use source materials responsibly and avoid plagiarizing by (a) describing
the kinds of material you must document; (b) illustrating unsuccessful and successful paraphrases; (c) offering
advice on how to paraphrase; and (d) providing guidelines for using direct quotations.
What You Must Document
If you use an author's specific word or words, you must place those words within
you must credit the source.
Even if you use your own words, if you obtained the information or ideas you are
presenting from a source, you must document the source.
: If a piece of information isn’t common knowledge (see #3 below),
you need to provide a source.
An author’s ideas may include not only points made and conclusions
drawn, but, for instance, a specific method or theory, the arrangement of
material, or a list of steps in a process or characteristics of a medical condition.
If a source provided any of these, you need to acknowledge the source.
You do not need to cite a source for material considered common knowledge:
General common knowledge
is factual information considered to be in the
public domain, such as birth and death dates of well-known figures, and
generally accepted dates of military, political, literary, and other historical
events. In general, factual information contained in multiple standard reference
works can usually be considered to be in the public domain.
Field-specific common knowledge
is “common” only within a particular field or
specialty. It may include facts, theories, or methods that are familiar to readers
within that discipline. For instance, you may not need to cite a reference to
Piaget’s developmental stages in a paper for an education class or give a source
for your description of a commonly used method in a biology report–but you
must be sure that this information is so widely known within that field that it
will be shared by your readers.
If in doubt, be cautious and cite the source.
And in the case of both general and
field-specific common knowledge, if you use the exact words of the reference
source, you must use quotation marks and credit the source.
The way that you credit your source depends on the documentation system you’re using. If you're not sure which