Spoiler alert: Plagiarism is bad.
This short and sweet course is the perfect crash course in how to cite sources. Ever wondered what the point of it all is? What the heck MLA and APA stands for? When to use footnotes and when to use in-text citations (*shudder). This course will give you the answers, and put you on the road to academic paper domination. By the end of this course, you'll know:
- that rather than being a torture device, citations just give credit where credit is due. Plus, they convince you're teacher you're not plagiarizing.
- the basic features of each of the main types of citations: MLA, APA, and Chicago.
- what exactly a "hanging indent is." Is it dangerous?
- how to smoothly integrate citations into your paper, whether by footnotes or in-text citations.
- how to cap your paper off with a clean-looking bibliography, works cited page, and even the rare annotated bibliography.
Unit 1. Citing Sources
You'll find all of the basics of citing sources here: why we cite, the nuts and bolts of citations, how to integrate citations into your writing, and the basics of bibliography writing.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 1: Why We Cite
In the introduction to this course, we solemnly swore to make you believe in the glory and power of citations. This lesson is the beginning of that magnificent journey. We're just so excited for you we can hardly stand it.
To start with, we're going to explain to you the magical and mysterious world of academic publishing. If you think it's a simple process of checking a few facts, typing up a book, and asking somebody to publish it, you've got a few surprises waiting for you. Once you understand that, you'll understand that a history professor citing their sources is basically the same as a mad scientist writing down their crazy experiments in their laboratory journal. Except with less lighting and hilarious German accents.
And then there will be a super hard test worth a million points. Just kidding. There will be a test, but it's more about exploring the dangers of plagiarism than grading you. Be cool, dudes.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.1: Academic Writing and Plagiarism
Research and Writing in the Academic World
As a student, it might seem like there are only two kinds of writing: fiction and non-fiction. Other than that, all that matters is what genre it gets shelved under in the bookstore. But there's another important distinction within the category of non-fiction that you're going to have to learn to care about. It's the difference between academic writing and non-academic writing.
Non-academic writing comes in a few different forms—somebody goes deep-sea-diving and writes their memoirs, or maybe a bird-nerd decides to publish a new guide to southeastern finches. But academic writing actually has to adhere to a pretty strict process.
An academic author might spend years researching a subject and developing her argument. Then she'd submit their work to an academic publisher. That publisher submits the work to the process of peer review. That means they find a bunch of top-level experts in the field who review the accuracy of the work under consideration. So, if you write an article about nuclear fusion power plants, they'll send it to a bunch of nuclear physicists to see if it's up to scratch. Only then—after months of review and editing—will the work be published as a new contribution to academic knowledge.
Believe it or not, citations are an important part of that publishing process. Okay, follow us here. In the scientific world, an experiment is junk unless you can give specific directions that allow other people to replicate your results. If you tell the world that feeding pigs helium balloons allows them to fly, nobody will care if they can't try it for themselves.
It's the same in non-scientific publishing. Citations are the notes that allow readers to find the source for each tiny bit of knowledge in your book or article and trace it back to the original source. If a historian quoted Eleanor Roosevelt saying, "I heart poor people, LOL," they'd need to provide a citation that noted the specific piece of paper in the specific box in the specific archive that told them she said that. Hint: She didn't. In sum, people reading your work need to figure out how you got to your conclusions. That means showing what sources your argument is building on top of.
Without citations, the entire process of peer review would be kind of impossible, and nobody could check anybody else's research.
Plagiarism: It's the Worst
Seriously though, plagiarism is the worst. It's the worst possible outcome of failing to cite your sources properly. You're all probably familiar with it—plagiarism is the act of passing off somebody else's ideas as your own. Now, that's not as clear-cut as you might suspect. You might think that if you don't copy and paste it into your document, it's not really cheating, is it? Wrong, mis amigos. Dead wrong. Go read this excellent and funny description of the many types of plagiarism (note that this comes from Plagiarism.org, which is just a really excellent free resource more generally).
See how many different ways there are to plagiarize, even accidentally? By citing things properly you can avoid all the sins of plagiarism. Plus, you get to give credit where credit is due. Most sources you'll read took somebody a lot of time and sweat to produce, and citing them is a way of giving props where they're due.
Citations: A Style For Every Occasion
We know that citations are important, but we don't quite know what they look like. Well, unfortunately for us all, the world hasn't sat down and agreed on a single universal style for citing sources. So there are different kinds of citations, called styles. The three most common styles are MLA (from the Modern Language Association), APA (from the American Psychology Association), and CMS (from the Chicago Manual of Style, often just called Chicago). Here's a rundown on each of them:
- MLA: This is probably the most common citation system. It's used in most of the humanities. Because those fields value scholarly authorship, the specific formatting of MLA emphasizes the author's name. Go look at a sample paper with MLA citations (note that you might have to click the link near the top of the page that says "sample paper").
- APA: APA is used in social sciences and some science publications. Since the sciences are pretty dependent on all their information being really new, APA formatting emphasizes the date. Here's what APA looks like in real life.
- CMS (Chicago): If you love history, primary sources, and archives where you might discover ancient scrolls, then you love Chicago style. Chicago is used mostly in academic history. It's the only style that uses footnotes, because history as a discipline is all about quickly and easily identifying sources. Here's how it looks.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1: Plagiarism in the Wild
We talked some nice theory about citations and plagiarism, but now it's time to put that information into action. In this activity, we're going to literally put your plagiarism knowledge to the test.
First, follow this link to take a handy-dandy quiz on plagiarism. Click "Take a Certification Test" at the bottom to start the test. Make sure to take your time, because it's tricky.
Now we're going to drag you through a little more mud before you're free and clear. Answer these short questions (3-5 sentences each) about the plagiarism test: