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How to Research a Topic

Use these steps to research a topic and document your sources.

What is a Citation?

A citation is a method of documenting where an idea, a piece of information, or a quote in your paper came from.

Example:

Citation within your paper: Medieval Europe was a place both of "raids, pillages, slaver, and extortion" and of "traveling merchants, monetary exchange, towns if not cities, and active markets in grain" (Townsend 10).

Corresponding reference at the end of your paper: Townsend, Robert M. The Medieval Village Economy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

What Must Be Cited

1. All words quoted directly from another source

Put other people's words in quotation marks, and include a parenthetical citation or footnote for the source.

"It appears that both repeat dieters and bulimics can be characterized as having low self-esteem and an external locus of control" (Dykens and Gerrard 288).

2. All facts, figures, and statistics that are not common knowledge.

When in doubt, cite your source:

Gold prices reached a ten-year high of $12.33 an ounce on October 10, 1993 (Scott 23).

3. All ideas paraphrased from a source:

According to Dykens and Gerrar, people who are bulimic or who diet repeatedly can be characterized as having low self-esteem and feelings of being out of control (288).

 

TIP: Paraphrasing does not mean changing one or two words in a sentence. Paraphrasing is putting an idea into your own words.
For example:

Original, from Wilson and Blackhurst (1999): The fact that the media-portrayed standard of thinness is unattainable for most women is precisely what makes it such an effective marketing tool. Encouraging women to measure themselves against this standard allows advertisers to exploit not only women's inevitable dissatisfaction with their own bodies but also their resulting feelings of failure and inadequacy. When women inevitably fail to achieve the thin ideal, food advertisers are quick to suggest that this failure is cause for guilt and shame. Food advertisements signal to women that the failure is more than a lapse in willpower; it is a sign of weak character, even moral inadequacy.
Plagiarism:
Changing a few words around, and using a few synonyms is not paraphrasing!
The media portrays standards of thinness that are unattainable for most women, and they use this portrayal as an effective marketing tool. Encouraging females to compare themselves against this standard of thinness allows advertisers to exploit women's poor body images and their resulting feelings of failure and inadequacy. Food advertisers are quick to suggest that the failure of women to achieve the thin ideal is cause for guilt and shame. Food advertisements send a signal to women that failing to be thin is a sign of weak character and moral shortcomings.
Still Plagiarism
(even with the citation at the end):
The media portrays standards of thinness that are unattainable for most women, and they use this portrayal as an effective marketing tool. Encouraging females to compare themselves against this standard of thinness allows advertisers to exploit women's poor body images and their resulting feelings of failure and inadequacy. Food advertisers are quick to suggest that the failure of women to achieve the thin ideal is cause for guilt and shame. Food advertisements send a signal to women that failing to be thin is a sign of weak character and moral shortcomings (Wilson and Blackhurst 1999).
Not Plagiarism. Successful Paraphrasing: Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) note that food advertisers capitalize on and exacerbate women's poor body images. According to the authors, food advertisers deliberately encourage feelings of guilt and inferiority among female consumers by creating ads that feature unrealistically thin women.

How to Cite

See Citing Sources for examples of citations in APA, MLA, and Turabian styles.

  • Different disciplines have different citation styles.
    • APA: psychology, education, and other social sciences.
    • MLA: literature, arts, and humanities.
    • Turabian: designed for college students to use with all subjects. Popular with history scholars.
  • Ask each of your instructors which style they want you to use.

Citing sources consists of two steps:

  1. Cite within the text of your paper with parenthetical references or footnotes. Provide the exact page number for the passage you are citing, so anyone reading your paper can go back and find the same information.
  2. Provide a comprehensive list of all the works cited. This is called a Works Cited Page, or a Bibliography, depending on which citation style you use.

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