If you have unrestricted Internet access, you may be tempted to use any source you find online as a basis for your writing. However, an article that you find online may not provide the best or most academically valid information. Citing information you have learned through research, whether it is online or in a book at the library, is one of the cornerstones of academic work. Before you include a source in your paper, you should evaluate the academic quality and reliability of the information. You have probably already heard that Wikipedia is not a good source for academic papers because it can be edited by anyone. You can learn how to incorporate Internet sources smoothly into your papers by following a few rules that can help you select and evaluate the source, quote or paraphrase appropriately, and receive credit for your research through appropriate citation.
- Don’t Use Wikipedia as an Academic Source: The Connors State College Writing Center explains why Wikipedia is a good starting point but not appropriate as a source for papers.
- The Difference Between Popular and Scholarly Sources: UC Santa Cruz Library provides a handout and chart comparing popular and scholarly information. Both may be used in papers, but students should acknowledge the difference in their writing.
- How Do I Evaluate an Internet Source? Georgetown University’s library offers an in-depth guide to determining whether or not a website is a good choice for your paper.
- Why Should I Cite Information? Yale University’s Center for Teaching and Learning discusses the underlying reasons why students should cite the information that they include in their papers.
- How to Cite Website Information in Your Essay: Websites lack page numbers, and it can be challenging to locate the author, date, and publisher of a Web page. The University of Washington offers a handout showing how to write about different types of Internet sources in your paper.
Once you have located information on the Internet that you want to include in your paper, you will want to make sure that you are quoting and paraphrasing the information in a way that provides credit to the original author and publication while also recognizing your research and analysis. Some instructors and textbooks refer to this process as the “academic conversation.” Research today requires an extra layer of caution, as it often involves cutting and pasting information from Web pages or scripts from online videos. If you copy and paste another person’s writing without providing credit or offering a citation, it is plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious ethical and academic violation, but when people take notes by copying material from the Internet, it can sometimes be a simple accident. Being organized and using tools to keep track of quotes and research will help to show your work and also avoid any problems with plagiarism.
- Quoting, Summarizing and Paraphrasing: Find explanations of the benefits of direct quotes, paraphrasing, and summarizing in papers and how to properly accomplish each task.
- Types of Plagiarism: Bowdoin College’s writing lab covers the four most common types of plagiarism: direct, self, mosaic, and accidental (also called “cut and paste“).
- Questions to Evaluate the Information in Your Paper (Academic Conversation): Academic work involves accepted ways of referring to other people’s ideas (sources you find on the Internet) and appropriate responses.
- Smooth Ways to Quote Sources in Papers: Try out this list of signal words to keep your quotations from sounding repetitive.
- How to Quote Sources With Examples: The University of Richmond offers examples of online and print source quotes in papers.
Your instructor may request that you write your papers using a specific format, such as MLA, APA, or Chicago style. The purpose of the format is to make it easier for students and instructors to follow and understand the research. Each in-text citation informs the reader of the source of your information. It should correspond to information from the works cited page that appears at the end of the paper. Each paper format is similar, but there are enough differences that you should consult instructions specific to the format you have been assigned.
- APA Format: Find a description of the American Psychological Association (APA) format here.
- MLA Format: Access a visual guide to following the Modern Language Association (MLA) format.
- CMS (Chicago) Format: Grace College features a sample paper with citations for the Chicago Manual of Style format, including footnotes and a bibliography.
Because the Internet and writing itself are constantly changing, different instructors will have different requirements for the types of online sources they will accept in student papers. For instance, if you are writing a paper and find information that’s helpful on a blog, can you include this information in a paper? Perhaps, if it’s credible information relevant to the assignment.
- APA Quick Format Guide for In-Text Citations: Penn State’s library offers a one-page quick guide for including in-text citations and writing about Internet sources.
- MLA Format Guide for Internet Citations: Columbia College offers a quick guide for in-text citations and works cited pages for Internet sources.
- How to Include Videos in College Papers: This APA blog covers how to cite videos with timestamp information in papers.