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A Guide to Physics & Astronomy Research

Why do I need to cite my sources?

Citing your sources is:

  • the smart thing to do: readers will consider your work more credible if they know where your information comes from.
  • the honest thing to do: it prevents plagiarism by giving credit to the original author of an idea.

Imagine research as a conversation -- scholars are trading ideas back and forth and building on the findings of earlier work. Citing your sources is an important part of contributing to this conversation -- it allows readers to understand how your work fits into the overall conversation.

Citing your sources in a standard style also helps readers tell at a glance what type of source you used (book vs. journal article, etc), and it helps readers find and reference the sources you used.

When should I cite a source?

What is Plagiarism?

The DU Honor Code defines plagiarism as "including any representation of another's work or ideas as one's own in academic and educational submissions."

At DU, plagiarism is seen as a form of academic misconduct and can result in severe consequences. These explanations of the most common types of plagiarism from Bowdoin College can help you learn to detect plagiarism in your own and other's work.

To avoid plagiarism, cite sources when:

  • You directly quote a source
  • You paraphrase a source
  • You summarize someone else's ideas in your own words
  • You draw on facts, information, or data from someone else
  • You want to add supplemental information not included in your paper, such as footnotes or endnotes

Note: You do not need to cite generally accepted knowledge. For more information, see Not-So-Common Knowledge.

A general rule of thumb is: "When in doubt, cite it."

The text above is a direct quote from the Northern Arizona University e-Learning Center's Academic Integrity @ NAU tutorial. The e-Learning Center was paraphrasing Princeton University's guidelines.

What is Plagiarism Detection Software?

DU uses a plagiarism detection software called VeriCite. When a student turns in a paper through Canvas, VeriCite checks the internet and many databases to see if anything has been copied from another person’s work.

How do I cite a source?

To cite a source properly, you need to follow the rules of a particular citation style.

There are many styles, and reformatting citations can take a long time -- so ask your professor about what citation style to use before you start writing your paper.


Common Citation Styles:

Online Style Guides:

Quick tools for auto-formatting your citations:

Want to use a program that not only creates your bibliography automatically, but can also store and organize citations and PDFs?

  • Check out ReadCube Papers -- DU provides all students, faculty, and staff with free accounts.
  • Check out Zotero -- a great free option from the makers of the Firefox browser.

Just need to format a few citations right now? Try these quick tools:

Whichever program you choose, remember to proofread the citations it generates for you!

Understand the generic format of a citation:

If you understand the general anatomy of a citation, it's easier to create your own citations -- plus, you can tell at a glance what kind of source was cited. Here's the anatomy of two sources formatted in the CSE (Council of Science Editors) style:

An article citation:

Dissected article citation

A book citation:

Dissected book citation.