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Citing your work

Taking notes

When you cite your sources, you are advancing two important functions of academic writing. First, you are giving proper credit to the external sources of your ideas, information, and analysis. This kind of attribution helps to ensure that academic discourse is a cumulative and constructive practice, not a parasitic one. Second, you are allowing your readers to consult the sources that have informed your own writing so that they can evaluate and build on your own work. Especially when so many online texts are publicly available, it may seem unnecessary to cite well-known primary sources—that is, the poetry, novels, or plays you’re analyzing. In academic writing, however, citing the exact edition(s) you’ve consulted and quoted is a necessity. Editions often contain meaningful differences that can alter the meaning of the text in question.

Citing your sources does, unfortunately, present some practical challenges. The discipline of English literature does not have a unified citation format, and different formats encode different values and emphases. The two most widely used formats are the MLA and Chicago styles. If your professors have not specified which format they prefer for their classes, ask them. Tricolib provides access to comprehensive guides for both of these sources. If you find the official Chicago Manual of Style and MLA Handbook a little daunting, you might wish to consult the Citation Quick Guide (to the Chicago Style) or the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s Guide to the MLA—both of which are also available at the link provided above.

Statement on Plagiarism

The practices surrounding intellectual property and the originality of intellectual work change across time. We are living through a period in which those changes have accelerated rapidly and with important consequences. Your professors are aware of the complex choices you confront as you seek to cite your sources. For example, you generally do not need to cite widely-known facts, but it may be difficult for you to know what counts as “common knowledge” within this academic discipline. The question of proper citation becomes even more uncertain when your sources are not traditional pieces of scholarship but rather online sources or lecture notes. Despite all of these complications, however, the basic principle of academic integrity remains intact: we need to cite the sources of our ideas rather than steal from them. For Swarthmore’s official policies about academic integrity, please consult the College Catalog academic policies. Please consult your professors if specific questions arise; in general, one useful rule is to cite your sources whenever there is reasonable doubt about whether you should do so.