Knowing Which Sources to Acknowledge

Materials That Donít Require Acknowledgment

Beginning researchers often ask, "Do I have to cite everything?" This is a good question because not every piece of information in a research paper must be cited. Figuring out what to cite and what not to cite can sometimes be difficult, even for experienced researchers. Generally, if you are unsure, include a citation. Itís always better to have an unnecessary citation in your paper than to omit one that is necessary.

Here are some general guidelines for materials that usually donít require acknowledgment in research projects:

Materials That Require Acknowledgment

Commonly consulted sources for research projects include books, articles from journals or newspapers, and Web sites. Keep in mind that some of your sources may be somewhat unusual, such as information from an Internet multiuser domain (MUD), an interview you conduct yourself, or the instruction manual for a model ship kit. Everything that you draw from another source, unless it falls into one of the categories described above (common knowledge, fact, your own ideas, and your own field research), must be cited.

Your citations should appear in two places: first, in the body of your paper, and second, in a list at the end of the paper. The style of citation your teacher has asked you to use will affect the formatting of these citations. For example, in Modern Language Association (MLA) style, your in-text citations should include the authorís last name and the page number where the information can be found; complete bibliographic information for each source will appear in a section titled "Works Cited." You can think of citations as a kind of map for your reader. An in-text citation guides the reader to the "Works Cited" section so that she can see where a particular idea came from. The "Works Cited" section gives precise directions on how to find the source itself. You can find detailed information on citation styles in a handbook.

The following list is not exhaustive, but suggestive. New kinds of information are always emerging: For instance, one of my students recently asked me how to cite the information she found on the label of an aspirin bottle! Generally speaking, however, here are guidelines for which materials require acknowledgment in academic writing:

Download exercises on acknowledging sources.