No writing is entirely original. We all draw ideas, information, and inspiration from other writers and thinkers, and much of our common knowledge, as well as many of our everyday beliefs and forms of speech, come from other writers’ texts. We don’t expect to see a footnote every time we see or hear someone utter an unoriginal phrase like “Love is not proud,” or “All men are created equal.” But in an academic paper, you are presenting the result of your own reading, digesting, and analyzing of other writers’ work, and you need to be honest and clear about the relationship between these other writers’ work and your own. Academic writing has developed its own rules for doing this. As a college student, you are fully responsible for knowing and applying these rules—even though they are often not observed in many kinds of published writing.

An academic paper is not simply a collection of facts or ideas; it is a truthful account of how you came to know and understand these. Indicating where your facts, ideas, and interpretations came from is called “acknowledging” or ‘citing” your sources. If you fail to acknowledge your sources fully and accurately, even if you do not intend to deceive anyone, you are effectively lying to your reader. This kind of dishonesty is called plagiarism.