Intellectual Honesty: When to Cite
In Honor Council hearings, students often defend their errors by stating that they do not know when they must cite a source and when they can simply include information without documentation. This section explains explicitly when a citation is required and when it is not.
The following types of information do not require a citation:
• Personal experience or interpretation
• Common knowledge, found in multiple, common sources (e.g., “The American Civil War lasted from 1861-1865”). If you are ever unsure whether or not the knowledge is “common,” consult your professor or provide a citation, even if it is extraneous.
More often than not, the outside information you use for a written assignment will require a citation or will otherwise be considered plagiarized. Different departments or disciplines (e.g., psychology, English, biology, theater) may have particular guidelines regarding citation, but the basic rule is the same: Generally speaking, if someone else already said or wrote it, you must cite it, regardless of when or in what context you read or heard about it and regardless of whether or not the source is your roommate, a scholar, your professor, or an anonymous writer. In some cases, you may even have to do additional research to find out exactly how, when, and where the information originally appeared. Here is a general list of what needs textual documentation:
• Quotations, including those from any published or unpublished source (e.g., scholarly articles, class texts, websites).
• Paraphrased and interpreted text and ideas, including summaries or sections of articles, entire books, professor’s lectures, previously read material, reviews, abstracts. This list is not exhaustive and you should consult with your professor if you have any question about the use and documentation of a source.
• Data or information—including statistics, graphs, polls, surveys—from reference materials.
For more information about formatting your citations, please see the preceding chapter’s section on citing and consult your professors about which citation format is used in their respective disciplines. If you are ever in doubt about whether or not to cite a source, consult your professor or err on the side of caution and cite it.