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MLA style

Why use the words and ideas of others?

Using quotes and ideas from others can

  • back up your point of view
  • illustrate a point
  • connect your writing with that of others on the topic (a scholarly conversation)
  • give texture to your writing
  • show that you "did your homework" and researched your topic and provide evidence to support your idea

Do not cite sources to make a point for you. Always make sure to include your own analysis and point of view.

When must you credit sources

You must give credit to your source when

  • you are using words or ideas presented in a book, journal, magazine, blog, website, movie, TV program, or any other medium
  • you copy exact words
  • you are paraphrasing. This is where a lot of unintentional plagiarism happens. MLA9, 4.7 tells us how to paraphrase
  • you reprint any diagrams or charts
  • when you reuse or repost any digital media

There are more situations, see "Plagiarism FAQs." Purdue Online Writing Lab and MLA9 4.4-4.11.

When you don't need to give credit

You don't need to give credit when

  • you are writing your own experiences, observations, or insights
  • you use your own artwork, videos, photographs, audio, etc.
  • you are using things that are common knowledge
  • you are using generally accepted facts, including those that are generally accepted in the discipline in which you are writing
  • you mention an author or work in passing (4.14)
  • when you allude to a well-known passage for rhetorical effect (4.15)
  • if you have an epigraph, which is a short quotation at the beginning of a work that establishes the mood or theme (4.16)

MLA9 defines common knowledge as  basic biographical facts about prominent persons and the dates and circumstances of major historical events (4.13). The Purdue OWL says for something to be common knowledge, at least 5 credible sources must have the information without citation.

Remember, when in doubt, cite your source! Better to cite and not need to than to plagiarize. Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism.

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