What is the difference between documentation, citation, and reference?
When do I need to document sources?
        Use and Adaptation of Materials
        Paraphrased Material
        Using Other Authors’ Examples
        Using Other Authors’ Charts and Graphs
        Using Class Notes
        Debatable Facts
        Unusual Facts
What is a source?

What is the difference between documentation, citation, and reference?

There is considerable overlap in how people use terms like document, cite, reference, quote, and the like. For the sake of consistency here, we will define these terms as follows:

  • documentation is the general practice of acknowledging sources by clearly indicating what you have borrowed and giving the proper bibliographic information for each source
  • a citation occurs when you use a specific source in your work and then follow up with the proper bibliographic information; plagiarism issues arise when you use a specific source, but fail to indicate what you have borrowed, and/or fail to provideproper bibliographic information
  • a reference is the bibliographic information that guides readers to your source.

When do I need to document sources?

If you use any external sources in your work, you must document every instance where you do so. There are several ways of incorporating outside sources into your own work:

Direct Citation

  • where you quote a source directly, word for word
  • where you reproduce source material without alteration (e.g. diagrams, charts, other audio-visual material)

Indirect Citation

  • where you reproduce part or all of someone else’s idea in your own words (commonly known as paraphrasing)
  • where you use or summarize someone else’s research
  • where you use facts or data that are not common knowledge
  • where you reproduce source material in slightly altered form while retaining the main idea or structure

Both direct and indirect citations require proper documentation. Quotations, in particular, must be enclosed within quotation marks or set off in a block quote.


  1. Examples of Materials which Have Been Appropriately Cited
  2. Quoted Material and Unusual Opinion or Knowledge

Source: Vivelo, Jackie. “The Mystery of Nancy Drew.Ms. 3.3 (1992): 76-77. Print.

The teenage detective who was once a symbol of spunky female independence has slowly been replaced by an image of prolonged childhood, currently evolving toward a Barbie doll detective. . . . Every few pages bring reminders of Nancy’s looks, her clothing, her effect on other people. . . . The first entry in this series carries a description of Nancy: “The tight jeans looked great on her long, slim legs and the green sweater complemented her strawberry-blonde hair.”

1. Use and Adaptation of Materials

Nancy Drew has become a “Barbie doll” version of her old self. She has become superficial and overly concerned with her looks. She is described in the new series as wearing “tight jeans [that] looked great on her long, slim legs” (qtd. in Vivelo 77). She has traded her wits and independent spirit for a great body and killer looks (Vivelo 76-77).

The writer has paraphrased most of the material. She discovered that the paraphrased ideas are unusual (not found in other sources). Therefore, she placed a citation at the end of the entire passage. In addition, the writer borrowed a quotation from the Nancy Drew series that she found in the article. The writer has placed quotation marks around that borrowed material and  placed a “quoted in” citation immediately after the quotation.

2. Interpretation

Source: Lehmberg, Stanford. The Peoples of the British Isles: A New History. Vol. I. New York: Wadsworth, 1992. Print.
Page 9: One recent theory, advanced by the physicist Gerald Hawkins, holds that Stonehenge was actually an observatory, used to predict the movement of stars as well as eclipses of the sun and moon. Such a structure would have been of great value to an agricultural people, since it would enable them to mark the changing seasons accurately, and it would have conferred seemingly supernatural powers on the religious leaders who knew how to interpret its alignments.

Use and Adaptation of the Material:
If Stonehenge were  an astronomical observatory which could predict the coming of spring, summer, and fall, this knowledge would have given tremendous power to the priestly leaders of an agricultural community (Lehmberg 9).

The writer has appropriately cited this material since the writer is in debt to someone else for the analysis, even though the writer has not used any direct quotations.

3. Paraphrased Material

Source:   Osborne, Richard, ed. How to Grow Annuals.  2nd ed. Menlo Park: Lane, 1974. Print.
Page 24: As a recent authority has pointed out, for a dependable long-blooming swatch of soft blue in your garden, ageratum is a fine choice. From early summer until frost, ageratum is continuously covered with clustered heads of fine, silky, fringed flowers in dusty shades of lavender-blue, lavender-pink, or white. The popular dwarf varieties grow in mounds six to twelve inches high and twelve inches across; they make fine container plants. Larger types grow up to three feet tall. Ageratum makes an excellent edging.

Use and Adaptation of the Material:
You can depend on ageratum if you want some soft blue in your garden. It blooms through the summer and the flowers, soft, small, and fringed, come in various shades of lavender. The small varieties which grow in mounds are very popular, especially when planted in containers. There are also larger varieties. Ageratum is good as a border plant (Osborne 24).

The writer has done a good job of paraphrasing what could be considered common knowledge (available in a number of sources), but because the structure and progression of detail is someone else’s, the writer has acknowledged the source. This the writer can do at the end of the paragraph since he or she has not used the author’s words.

4. Using Other Authors’ Examples

Source: Begley, Sharon. “The Puzzle of Genius.” Newsweek 28 June 1993: 46+. Print.
The creative geniuses of art and science work obsessively. . . .  Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted.

Source: Hotz, Robert. “The Heady Theories on Contours of Einstein’s Genius.” Wall Street Journal 2009 May 22, late ed: A9. Print.
Although he published 300 scientific papers, Einstein couldn’t easily describe the way his mind worked.

Use and Adaptation of the Material
If there is a single unifying characteristic about geniuses, it is that they produce. Bach wrote a cantata every week (Begley 50). Einstein drafted over 300 papers (Hotz A9).

Instead of finding original examples, the writer has used other authors’ example to back up what the writer had to say; therefore, the writer cited the sources where he found the examples.

5. Using Other Authors’ Charts and Graphs

Source: Technorati. State of the Blogosphere 2008.  Technorati, 13 October 2009. Web. 20 November 2009

Use and Adaptation of the Material:

As blogging has evolved, so has its credibility as a communication medium. In its survey for its 2008 State of the Blogosphere Report, Technorati asked a statistically valid representative sample of bloggers world wide about the credibility of the blogging world. The results suggest blogging is becoming more credible as a source of information (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Perceptions of Blogs and Traditional Media. Source: Technorati 2008.

Instead of creating an original chart or graph, the writer has used one from an outside source to support what the writer has to say; therefore the graph has been cited both in the textual introduction and also in the caption. If the writer had created an original chart, some of the facts might need citations (see example VIII).

6. Using Class Notes

Source: McKay, Mary. : “Messages in Modern Music.” Northwestern University.  Evanston, IL.  10 Mar. 2010.  Lecture.
A. Born in USA–Springsteen’s 7th, most popular album
a. Recorded with songs on Nebraska album–therefore also about hardship
1. Nebraska about losers and killers
b. About America today–Vietnam, nostalgia, unemployment, deterioration of family
c. Opening song–many people missed the Vietnam message about how badly vets were treated.
class notes–Messages in Modern Music A05
Professor Mary McKay–March 10, 2010

Use and Adaptation of the Material:
As Professor McKay has pointed out, many of the songs in Born in the USA (Springsteen’s seventh and most popular album), including the title song, were recorded with the songs on Nebraska. Consequently, Born in the USA is also about people who come to realize that life turns out harder and more hurtful than what they might have expected. However, while Nebraska deals with losers and killers, Born in the USA deals more locally with the crumbling of American society–its treatment of returning Vietnam veterans, its need to dwell on past glories, its unemployment and treatment of the unemployed, and the loss of family roots. This is apparent from the opening song of the album “Born in the USA” in which Springsteen sings from the perspective of a Vietnam Veteran.

By mentioning Professor McKay’s name in the text itself, the writer has acknowledged that these ideas (which are not commonly held or the writer has not investigated to find out if they are commonly held) come from a lecture. In this instance, because there is no page number to cite, no parenthetical citation is necessary. A reader can go to the entry for McKay in the Works Cited list to find all the necessary specific information about the source.

7. Debatable Facts

Source: Craig, Gordon A. Europe Since 1815. New York: Dryden, 1974. Print.
Page 370: In the campaigns of 1915, Russian casualties have been conservatively estimated at more than 2 million.

Source: Stavrianos, Leften.S. The World Since 1500. New York: Prentice Hall, 1966. Print.
Page 438: By the end of the summer [of 1915] in addition to military casualties totaling 2,500,000 men, Russia had lost 15 percent of her territories. . . .

Response to the Material
Estimates of the number of deaths in Russia during 1915 range from over two million (Craig 370)  to two and a half million (Stavrianos 438).

The writer found different facts in different sources; therefore the “facts” needed to be documented.

8. Unusual Facts

Source: Enroth-Cugell, Christina, Lyle F. Mockros, and Robert A. Linsenmeier. “Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern, 1969-1999.” PDF File. Northwestern University Biomedical Engineering. Northwestern University, 4 Sept. 2001. Web. 3 August 2010.
The majority of the biomedical engineering faculty from various departments in Tech believed that if the program at Northwestern was to maintain the worldwide reputation for excellence it had achieved and make further progress during the ensuing years, then the curriculum had to continue to include quantitative biology courses on the Evanston Campus. One compelling reason for advocating the reintroduction of such biology courses on the Evanston campus was that by the early 1970’s approximately 40% of first year undergraduates in the engineering school were enrolling in the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Engineering Program.

Use and Adaptation of the Material:
For decades, biomedical engineering has been one the most popular engineering majors at Northwestern. In fact, in the 1970’s roughly 40% of incoming engineering undergraduates entered the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Engineering Program (Enroth-Cugell, Mockros and Linsenmeier, 3)

The writer found this fact in only one source and wants his reader to know where to find it.


Examples of Paraphrasing

Here’s the ORIGINAL text, from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s by Joyce Williams et al.:

The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history. As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry came urbanization the growth of large cities (like Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade.

Here’s an UNACCEPTABLE paraphrase that is plagiarism:

The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and the explosion of the population were three large factors of nineteenth century America. As steam-driven companies became more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities like Fall River where the Bordens lived which turned into centers of commerce and trade as well as production.

What makes this passage plagiarism?

The preceding passage is considered plagiarism for two reasons:

  • the writer has only changed around a few words and phrases, or changed the order of the original’s sentences.
  • the writer has failed to cite a source for any of the ideas or facts.

NOTE: This paragraph is also problematic because it changes the sense of several sentences (for example, “steam-driven companies” in sentence two misses the original’s emphasis on factories).

Here’s an ACCEPTABLE paraphrase:

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the US, they found work in these new factories. As a result, populations grew, and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams 1).

Why is this passage acceptable?

This is acceptable paraphrasing because the writer:

  • accurately relays the information in the original
  • uses her own words.
  • lets her reader know the source of her information.

What is a source?

There are two basic types of academic sources:

Primary Sources

  • the main text or work that you are discussing (e.g. a sonnet by William Shakespeare; an opera by Mozart)
  • actual data or research results (e.g. a scientific article presenting original findings; statistics)
  • historical documents (e.g. letters, pamphlets, political tracts, manifestoes)

Secondary Sources

  • works that discuss your primary source (e.g. an article analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnets; a review of an opera performance; a textbook that synthesizes research in a particular field; a newspaper editorial expressing an opinion on a political manifesto.)

Sources may occur in a variety of formats, including:

  • oral and written forms
  • print media such as books, articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, journals, and newspapers
  • audio-visual media such as film, TV, radio, sound recordings, artwork
  • research findings such as raw data, lab results, interviews, graphs, charts, and tables
  • Internet sources such as websites, reference works, newspapers, electronic texts, hypertexts, newsgroups, listserves, and essays posted online
  • personal communication such as letters, e-mail, memos, class lectures, and conversations

All primary and secondary sources in whatever format must be properly documented wherever you use them in your work.