The Use of Sources

Academic Writing and Originality

The Contradictions of American Academic Writing
  • Show you have done your research, but write something new and original
  • Appeal to experts and authorities, but improve upon, or disagree with experts and authorities
  • Improve your English by mimicking what you hear and read, but use your own words, your own voice
  • Give credit where credit is due, but make your own significant contribution

(Avoiding Plagiarism. Online Writing Lab, Purdue University. 7 June 2013.

One common difficulty that students encounter as they attempt to synthesize their own scholarly contributions is the pressure to be original. While the English Department and the College encourage and expect you to extend your thinking and your scholarship beyond what you hear, see, or read, your sources are an integral background for that work. As you develop your academic writing it is very important to acknowledge each and every one of your sources. By doing so, you do not diminish the value of your contribution. Rather, "you demonstrate your integrity and skill as a responsible participant in the conversation of scholarship" (Sources par. 1).1

For further discussion of originality, proper citations, and responsible scholarship see the MLA Handbook, the English Department's "Guide to the Preparation of Papers," or:

When to Cite Your Sources


  • When you are introducing facts that are not generally known, cite your source.
  • When you quote another work directly, cite your source.
  • When you present an opinion or line of reasoning that you did not originate, cite your source.
  • In general, whenever you are using words or ideas that come from another person's work, cite your source.

Make sure the distinction between your work and the work of others is always clear. When in doubt, provide a citation. Err on the side of caution. For further clarification, see The MLA Handbook, Rules for Writers, or the English Department's "Guide to the Preparation of Papers." See also:

On Common Knowledge

"Common knowledge" can be defined as facts that the majority of members of a community can be expected to know. It is knowledge "held in common." A much-used example of common knowledge, quoted in the MLA Handbook and in other print resources, is "George Washington was the first President of the United States." Facts like this one, in other words, are things you can expect your reader to be aware of before he or she reads your work. Common knowledge also includes well-known proverbs or quotations. If some of the information in your paper is common knowledge, it need not be cited. In general, when deciding what constitutes common knowledge, err on the side of caution. When you are in doubt over whether or not you can expect your reader to know a given fact, proverb, or famous quotation, track down and cite a source. It is better to over-document than to under-document. For more information, see:

Key Links

The following web sites are comprehensive research tools, designed to aid you not only in your gathering of information but in your writing. We encourage you to bookmark, explore and make use of them.

1. Dartmouth College. Committee on Sources. Sources: Their Use and Acknowledgement. 1998. 14 June 2004.