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Using Information Sources Ethically and Legally

The guide is designed to help students maintain their academic integrity by using information sources ethically and legally.

When do I need to cite sources?

Always give credit where credit is due. If the words that you are including in your research belong to someone else, give credit. 

Here is a brief list of what needs to be credited or documented: 

  • Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, website, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium 
  • Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing 
  • When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase 
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials 
  • When you reuse or repost any digital media, including images, audio, video, or other media 

There are certain things that do not need documentation or credit, including: 

  • Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject 
  • When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments 
  • When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc. 
  • When you are using "common knowledge," things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents) 
  • When you are using generally accepted facts (e.g., pollution is bad for the environment) including facts that are accepted within particular discourse communities (e.g., in the field of composition studies, "writing is a process" is a generally accepted fact). 

(From Plagiarism FAQs - Purdue Writing Lab)

Does EVERYTHING need to be cited?

The following chart from the UT Arlington Library Acknowledging Sources tutorial will guide you in your decision:

What is common knowledge? This refers to facts well known by many people and verifiable in five or more sources. Examples:

  • Bill Gates is the founder of the Microsoft Corporation.
  • There are 60 minutes in an hour.
  • Columbus is the capital of Ohio.
  • The whole is greater than the part.

If you have any doubts or questions, ask your professor or librarian.
Err on the side of caution: when in doubt, cite!

All you need to know about citing sources

The online guide Citing Your Sources provides information on citation, style guides, citation tools, and more.

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