Amy has taught college and law school writing courses. She holds a master's degree in English and a law degree.
Plagiarism. You know you shouldn't do it, and you know you'd get into a lot of trouble if you did. But you might not be entirely sure what it is or how to avoid it. Luckily, there are clear rules to follow to ensure that you don't plagiarize your papers and that you always give credit where credit is due.
Plagiarism occurs when a writer or speaker presents the words or ideas of another as if they were his or her own. Basically, someone has plagiarized if he or she writes something (or includes something in a speech) that comes from someone else, but doesn't give credit to that other person. Even if you don't mean to plagiarize, you may still end up doing it if you've presented words or ideas from a source without properly crediting that source.
You can avoid plagiarism by being careful to cite your sources. A citation is a way of showing the source from which you've borrowed information that appears in your paper. There are a few different citation systems, and the one you should use depends on what type of writing you're doing. Many humanities classes require that you use the citation system set forth by the Modern Language Association, or MLA. If you're told to create a Works Cited page (as opposed to, say, a References page) to cite your sources, then you know you'll be using the MLA system.
So, what is a Works Cited page? The name itself gives us a big clue. The phrase 'Works Cited' essentially means, 'Hey, here are the works that I cited in my paper.' A Works Cited page is a page (or pages) at the end of your paper that lists all of the sources that you used in your paper. It's not enough, though, to toss in random descriptions of the stuff you borrowed from, like 'My biology textbook' or 'Article I read online about evolution.'
Instead, the MLA has set forth rules about what your list should look like and how you should cite different types of sources. Here's the general idea behind why you should create a Works Cited page. First, it would enable your reader to go find the source that you used and read it. You would present all of the information that would be required for your reader to find the specific source you used. Second, it's just the right thing to do.
Think about it this way. If you had gone to all the trouble of becoming an expert on something and writing a book or article that other people want to use and rely on in their papers, wouldn't you want those people to give you credit for it? The guy who wrote the definitive book on shoelaces, for example, deserves to be known as the world's foremost expert on shoelaces, and if you use his book in writing your paper on shoelaces, then it's your duty to let your reader know where you got your information.
So, there are two steps to properly citing all of the sources from which you've borrowed words or ideas in your paper. First, you must use in-text citations, or parenthetical citations, which are notations in the actual body of your paper providing short notes about the source you've used right after the information that you've borrowed from that source. So, if you've written, 'Shoelaces represent one of the greatest advancements of humankind,' and you've borrowed that idea from a book written by Joe Smith, you'd follow that sentence with a parenthetical citation that looks like this: (Smith 45), with 45 being the page number.
Note that our parenthetical citation doesn't provide a whole lot of information - just a last name and a page number. That's where our second step comes in. Your Works Cited page is step two, and it fills in all of the additional information about each and every source that you've used. One mistake that student writers sometimes make is listing sources in their Works Cited that they haven't used and cited in the body of their paper or, conversely, using and citing sources in the body of their paper, but not listing those sources in their Works Cited page. Don't make those mistakes. You could get hit with a plagiarism charge and/or lose points. You might also hurt our shoelace expert's feelings.
How to Construct Works Cited Entries
Let's take a look at what a Works Cited entry might look like. Let's use the example of Smith's book about shoelaces. The MLA has set out specific rules about how to put together a Works Cited entry and an entry for a book would look like this:
Smith, Joe. Shoelaces: A Brief History. New York: Random, 2010. Print.
Note that we present the author's last name before his first and then a period. We then present the title of the book in italics, followed by a period. Next is the name of the city in which the book was published, followed by a colon and then a shortened version of the name of the publishing company and a comma. Then put the year of the most recent printing of the book, followed by a period. Follow that with the word 'Print' for a print book, as opposed to an online book. Close with a period.
The city of publication, publishing company, and year of publication can be found on the book's title page and copyright page. When it comes to Works Cited pages, the details matter, so make sure that you follow the MLA guidelines for each entry. (Note that the MLA publishes the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. This book provides detailed formats and examples so that you can cite your papers correctly.)
Let's look at another example. Let's say that you've used an article from an online magazine as a source, and you need to include an entry for it on your Works Cited page. Here's what that type of entry would look like:
Washington, Marcus. 'Shoelaces and You.' Aglets Daily. Publishing Memes, Inc., 3 May 2013. Web. 12 May 2013.
Note that the entry starts with the author's last and first name and a period, followed by the title of the article and a period in quotation marks. Next comes the italicized title of the online magazine and another period. This is followed by the name of the publisher, a comma, and the date that the article was published and a period. Next comes the word 'Web,' followed by a period, to indicate that the publishing medium was online. Finally, you'll put the date that you accessed the source. Close with a period.
Again, you'll want to use either the MLA handbook or another reliable guide to MLA citation as you construct your Works Cited page to ensure that you put together each entry correctly. Many writing textbooks include MLA citation guides, and there are some reliable Internet sources that you can check out, as well. These guides will show you how to put together entries for all types of sources, including periodicals and a variety of online publications.
How to Present Entries on the Page
In addition to knowing what goes into a Works Cited entry for each source you use, you'll need to know how to put those entries on the page. Here are some basic rules:
- To title your list, put the words 'Works Cited' at the top of a new page at the end of your paper. Capitalize the 'W' and the 'C' and don't underline the words or put them in bold or italic font. Don't use a larger font size for the words, either.
- Alphabetize your entries. Usually, you'll be using the author's last name to determine how to order your entries, but if there is no author's name provided for a particular source, you might be using the name of the source's editor or of the organization that put out the source or a shortened version of the title of the work.
- Double space the entire Works Cited page, with no extra spaces between separate source entries.
- Use reverse indentation for each source. In other words, you'll be doing the opposite of what you do to indent a paragraph. You won't indent the first line of an entry, but you will indent each subsequent line.
Using a Works Cited page is an important part of preventing plagiarism, or the presentation of words or ideas of another as if they were your own. Many humanities classes require that you use the MLA citation system to cite your sources. A citation shows the source from which you've borrowed information that appears in your paper.
The Works Cited page itself is a page at the end of your paper that lists all of the sources that you used in that paper. You'll use in-text parenthetical citations as well to properly cite your sources. You should use either the MLA handbook or another reliable guide to MLA citation as you construct your Works Cited page to ensure that you put together each entry correctly. To construct your Works Cited page correctly, be sure to properly title the page at the top, alphabetize your entries, double space the entire page, and use reverse indentation for each entry.
Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:
- Define plagiarism and explain why it is important to avoid it
- Describe how to make a Works Cited page using the MLA citation system
- Explain how and why to use in-text parenthetical citations
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