WRITING WORKSHOP: Documenting Sources (Plagiarism, MLA style)

research-paperIn this Lesson, you will learn:

To document sources properly


Lesson: Documenting Sources

In the last lesson, you learned about finding sources.

To review, there are two basic kinds of information sources:


Source Characteristic Examples


Provide direct, firsthand knowledge Letters, journals, diaries,

original manuscripts,

questionnaires, interviews



Provide interpretations of, explanations of, and comments on material from other sources Encyclopedias, textbooks,

newspapers, magazines,

biographies and other

nonfiction books


We also learned that we find sources at the Library, on the Internet, using Graphics, and through contacting Experts.


In this lesson, we continue studying sources, specifically how to document them properly.


However, first, we also want to learn that even though there are many sources from which you can obtain information, not all sources are equally valuable. Therefore, we must evaluate all sources.


Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate each source you find.

  • Is the source up-to-date? The more recent the source, the better, especially for rapidly changing fields like science and medicine.
  • Is the source reliable? Is the author from a respected university, business, or other institution? Is the author recognized as an expert on your particular subject?
  • What are the author’s viewpoint and biases? Does the author seem to have a political, ethnic, gender, or other bias? How might it affect his or her objectivity?


Using a good mix of sources will help you present a range of ideas and thus make your report more interesting. It is, of course, vitally important that your facts be correct.



You have chosen the Topic for your upcoming Research Report. Now, it is time to begin looking for sources. You will need a minimum of four (4) sources total for your Research Report.

  • One (1) of those sources must be a primary source (see examples given above).
  • One (1) source must be a printed source: a book, magazine, encyclopedia, etc. that is not found on the internet. This will require that you to make at least one trip to the Library (for this printed source–and perhaps your primary source). You may do the rest of your research on the Internet. Plan for this trip with your parents. You do not want to spring it on them at the last minute. The purpose of the Library visit is to give you the opportunity to put into practice what you have learned about Finding Sources. (If you live in a remote area, and visiting a library would be a hardship for your family, please let me know. I will allow you to access your printed sources online.)
  • NOTE: Even though your primary source may be a print source, you MAY NOT count your primary source as the required print source for this assignment. You would still need information from one other print source (book, magazine, encyclopedia, etc.).

Making Source Cards

Skim your sources to see which ones you might use for your report. If a source seems useful, record all the relevant information about it on an index card. You will need this information when you prepare your Works Cited list. Be sure to number each source card so that you can use the number as a reference when you take notes and add documentation in your report. For a library book, it is useful to include the call number.

Here’s How to Make Source Cards

  • Book

Write the author’s or editor’s complete name, the title, the name and location of the publisher, and the copyright date.

  • Magazine or Newspaper Article

Write the author’s complete name (unless the article is unsigned), the title of the article, the name and date of the publication, and the page number(s) of the article.

  • Encyclopedia Article

Write the author’s complete name (unless the article is unsigned), the title of the article, and the name and copyright date of the encyclopedia.

  • World Wide Web Site

Write the author or editor’s complete name (if available), the title of the document, publication information for any print version of it, the date of the document’s electronic publication (if available), the name of any institution or organization responsible for the site, the date when you accessed the site, and the document’s website address—the URL (in angle < > brackets).

Here’s How

Taking Notes

Review your sources, and when you find material that answers your research questions, take notes. Good notes are the key to creating a good research report. You should include information paraphrased from your sources, as well as quotations that will support your ideas and make your paper interesting.

Here’s How to Take Notes

  • Use a separate index card for each piece of information.
  • Write a heading on each card, indicating the subject of the note.
  • Write the number of the corresponding source card on each note card.
  • Put direct quotations in quotation marks.
  • Record the number of the page in the source where you found the material.


These Note Cards will be turned in for evaluation before you write your Research Report.




Plagiarism means passing off someone else’s work as your own. It is dishonest. Obviously, you have plagiarized if you have borrowed, bought, or stolen someone else’s paper. However, it is also plagiarism to borrow words or ideas without identifying their source. Typically, when you write a research paper, you use primary and secondary sources to support your original ideas and interpretations. Consulting such sources and using them to help you write your paper is appropriate—as long as you keep a few simple things in mind—paraphrasing, quoting, and citing.



When you paraphrase, you summarize or restate an author’s ideas in your own words. This does not mean that you can change a few words and call the work your own. The example below shows the difference between a plagiarized paragraph and a paraphrased one.

Original Paragraph: from “Hunting Hurricanes” by Susan Pilár de la Hoz

Among other equipment, hurricane hunters use a dropsonde. This is a small, round tube. It is dropped into the eye of the hurricane. A parachute at the top of the tube opens and slows it down. The dropsonde falls toward the ocean. It picks up information about the storm. It then radios this information back to the plane.

Plagiarized Paragraph

*Among other instruments, hurricane hunters use a dropsonde. A dropsonde is a small, round tube that is dropped into the eye of the hurricane. A parachute at the top of the tube opens and slows it down. As the dropsonde detects information about the storm, it radios that information back to the hurricane hunters in the plane.

Paraphrased Paragraph

Hurricane hunters use a variety of instruments to detect information about a hurricane. One of these instruments, the dropsonde, is a small, round device with a built-in parachute. When the dropsonde is launched from the plane, the parachute opens, slowing down the dropsonde. As the dropsonde falls into the eye of the hurricane, it transmits data about the storm back to the hurricane hunters in the plane (de la Hoz, par. 5).


Although the writer of the plagiarized paragraph replaced and deleted a few words and phrases, that person did not summarize the original source in his or her own words. Additionally, the writer did not credit the original source. By contrast, the writer of the paraphrased paragraph did both.



Sometimes, an author expresses an idea so well that you’ll want to quote the passage in your report. Direct quotations can be used to:

  • provide concrete evidence to support your ideas
  • express an idea in a more precise or vivid way
  • make a powerful statement

Whether you’re quoting longer passages, one sentence, or just a few short phrases—make sure you always enclose others’ words in quotation marks.

Depending on the length of your paper, you’ll probably want to include direct quotations from several different sources. However, remember to use them sparingly. Your report primarily should reflect your own ideas and interpretations—not just the ideas of others.


Cite Sources

Simply paraphrasing or putting quotations around an author’s ideas is not enough. In addition, you must always credit the original source in the body of the text and in a Works Cited list at the end of your report. Note: Just like online text, Web media elements (graphics) are copyrighted material. Their sources must also be cited.


PARENTHETICAL (or IN-TEXT) DOCUMENTATION is the most common way of crediting sources in the body of a research report. Brief references in parentheses within the body of the report allow readers to locate the complete information about the sources in the Works Cited list. This Works Cited list is a detailed record of sources that appears as a separate page at the end of your report. It is very important that you credit the source of each quotation, each paraphrase, and each summary you use.


Here’s How to do Parenthetical (or In-Text) Documentation

Printed Sources are: books, magazines, newspapers

Electronic Sources are: any Internet (online) article, book, magazine, newspaper


  • If you have a printed source by One Author

Give the author’s last name and the page number in parentheses.

For example a paraphrase:

Over several decades, Eddie Feigner led a four-man team to many victories over nine-man teams (Dickson 101).


If you mention the author’s name in the sentence, give only the page number in parentheses.

For example a quotation:

According to Paul Dickson, Over several decades, Eddie Feigner led a four-man team to many victories over nine-man teams” (101).


  • If you have a printed source by More than One Author

Give the authors’ last names and the page number in parentheses.

For example: (Thorn and Palmer 16)

If a source has more than three authors, give the first author’s last name followed by et al. and the page number.

For example: (Brown et al. 27)


  • If you have a printed source with No Author Given

Give the title (or a shortened version of it) and the page number.

For example: (Official Encyclopedia 2274)


  • If you have One of Two or More printed sources by the Same Author

Give the author’s last name, the title or a shortened version of it, and the page number.

For example: (Dickson, Worth Book 98)


  • If you have Two or More Works Cited at the Same Place

Use a semicolon to separate the entries.

For example: (Brown 42; Zinsser 28)


  • If you have an Electronic/Online (Internet) Source

Note: Many electronic/online sources (articles) may not have an author’s name.

Also, there may not be a page number.

If you have an author’s name, but no page number

Give the author’s last name (Dickson)

If you have an author and page number

Give the author’s last name and page number (Dickson 101)

If no author is named

Give the title of the article (“Softball”)

If no author is named, but there is a page number

Give the title of the article and page number (“Softball” 12)



A Works Cited list documents only the works that you have actually referred to in your report. Alphabetize the sources according to the authors’ last names. Alphabetize anonymous works by the first words (except A, An, or The) in their titles.


Follow the instructions below when typing the list:

-The title is simply: Works Cited (no bold, no underline, no italics, no all caps)

-Center the title

-Double-space after the title, before the first entry.

-All entries must be in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If there is no author, alphabetize by the first word in the article title.

-Double-space within each entry and between entries.

-Indent the second and other lines of each entry one-half inch or five spaces.


There is also a special way to FORMAT each entry on your Works Cited list depending on if it is a PRINT SOURCE or an ONLINE SOURCE. Follow the examples of the formatting for the different types of sources in this HANDOUT:



MLA Style: Works Cited Examples (click on link)  I would suggest PRINTING these pages to keep in your English Notebook. Then, you will have easy access to them and can follow the examples given.




PRINT the Lecture Notes for the following Lessons:

O6.4 Finding and Using Sources & 06.5 Documenting Sources. Keep these in

your English Notebook and refer to them often as you work on your

Research Report. You will want to take them with you to the library. 

This is very important! You do not want to get to the library and

be unsure about what you need or where to find it.  


Lesson: Documenting Sources

EXERCISE A: Choose the best answer for each question.


  1. Critically evaluating content on the Web is important because
  2. A) Web authors are less professional.
  3. B) Web authors are always biased.
  4. C) anyone can publish on the Web. There’s no guarantee that what you’re reading is objective or accurate.
  5. D) printed information is always more accurate than Web information.


  1. Which of the following is the best indicator that a Web site is reliable?
  2. A) The author of the site tells you so.
  3. B) The author of the site provides contact information and his or her credentials.
  4. C) The author links to her favorite sites.
  5. D) The author states in bold letters that the site was proofread by a librarian.


  1. Which of the following is a TRUE statement?
  2. A) You are free to copy information you find and include it in a report.
  3. B) You do not have to cite the Web sources you use in your research report.
  4. C) You should never consult Web sources when you are doing a research report.
  5. D) Web sources must be cited in your report. You are not free to plagiarize.


EXERCISE B: Compose an MLA-style citation for each of the Web sites below. You will need to OPEN each link to get the information that you need. The link printed here is NOT enough.


  1. First Americans to Climb Mt. Everest adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/everest/jim-whittaker/



  1. Lost city of Petra (This link is located just below this lesson in Week 12. Go there to click on it.)



  1. Documenting the American South

docsouth.unc.edu/blueridgeparkway/about/about_parkway/parkway/ (After looking at this essay and its author, you will have to investigate the Home page of this site–Documenting the American South–to get additional information.)


  1. Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland Site

www.alice-in-wonderland.net/school/char1.html (click on “About” for information about the author, etc.)


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