Frequently Asked Questions About Research Papers
What is the best balance between my ideas and information from
Keep in mind that the research paper bears your name as author;
therefore, the majority of the ideas, arguments, and style should
be your own. A good rule of thumb is no more than one-third of the
paper should be attributed to outside sources.
When do I have to cite a source?
Acknowledge your source when you use: a direct quotation, a
statistic, someone else's idea, concrete facts, information from
the internet, illustrations, photos or charts (not your own) or
information not commonly known.
Note: Common knowledge is regarded as a fact that can
be found in any number of general resources, such as the dates of
the Civil War, Beethoven's birth date, or the chemical composition
of sodium chloride.
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the intentional use of another's words or ideas
without attribution. If in doubt, cite your source.
To avoid plagiarism:
- Always give credit for facts, quotations, and opinions that are
not common knowledge, even when expressed in your own words.
- Always give credit when you use another person's wording, even
a phrase. Use quotation marks.
- Write your first draft with your notes and books closed. Don't
go back and forth between your ideas and sources.
Is it better to directly quote a source or to paraphrase?
Unless the source expresses an idea in particularly memorable or
relevant language, it is best to paraphrase the idea and cite the
author. Remember, the paper is an example of your
How do I integrate another source into my paper?
A direct quotation should be preceded by a short introduction.
Identify the author and the source of information.
Example: Mike Rose's essay "The Language of Exclusion"
notes, "The writing course hold a very strange position in the
Example: English professor Mike Rose poses this
question: "But might not these difficulties with writing suggest
the need for possible far-ranging changes within the curriculum as
well -changes that are the proper concern of the
Example: Composition researcher Mike Rose does not
believe in the "myth of transience."
What if I borrow only a few words?
A rule of thumb is that quotations marks are necessary after you
have used three or more significant, consecutive words from your
source. (Do not count and, the, or, etc.)
How often do I give citations?
If many facts from one source are contained in a paragraph, use
one citation for all of them after the last fact or idea. At the
outset, use a phrase to signal the reader that you are using a
source, such as "according to…" The citation should be in the
same paragraph as the source. [See MLA documentation sample for
What do I do with titles?
Underline or italicize titles of books, periodicals (magazines),
journals, plays, films, and television programs. Use quotation
marks for titles of poems, essays, songs, and one-act plays.
Note: The title of your own essay does not go in
How do I use an author's name in my work?
Use the author's full name the first time you mention it.
Thereafter, use the full name or last name only - never just the
What's wrong with writing "in this quote, the author…"?
This phrase suggests that your source is quoting from someone
else. The word quote is a verb; quotation is a
noun. When you use quotation marks, you acknowledge that the
language is borrowed; using a phrase such as "in this quotation" or
"quote" is redundant.