I have a couple of questions about how to correctly cite sources in order to avoid unintentional plagiarism.

First, let me give you an example of a paragraph I was reading the other day as part of a course I'm taking on Coursera:

enter image description here

As can be seen in the example paragraph above, the person who wrote it didn't use any in-text citations, which makes me think that they either drew upon their own experience to write the content or just didn't need to acknowledge the sources at all.

So my first question is, if after doing some research, i.e., reading extensively, I write a compare/contrast essay without using in-text citations( as in the example above) but crediting the sources by including a Works Cited page at the end of the document, am I unintentionally committing plagiarism?

I ask this question because the author of the compare/contrast paragraph above didn't cite the sources, and so I assume that maybe there's no need to use in-text citations when you draw comparisons between two things, because the comparisons that you draw are a product of your own thinking and reasoning, and therefore there's no need to include in-line citations--even if you took the information from outside sources. The only thing you need to do, I assume, is to add a Works Cited list at the end of the document for reference purposes, and that would be enough to avoid plagiarism. Now, please tell me if my assumption is correct. Is this the reason why the author of the example paragraph I've given at the beginning of the post didn't include any in-text citations in it? Or were they simply using their own experience to make the comparisons?

Also, let's say I want to write an essay on three specific scientific theories. Hence, I go and read in detail about each theory until I have understood them thoroughly, and then I finally write a 5-page "essay" explaining and describing the theories, all in my own words and without including any in-text citations, only a Works Cited page at the end of the paper. Now, would this 5-page paper that I've produced be considered an academic essay? I personally think it wouldn't, because I didn't use my own ideas to write it. All I did was to sort of unintentionally summarize and paraphrase the content from the sources I read, didn´t I? Would it be considered an academic essay?

Finally, if this hypothetical paper I’m talking about couldn't be taken as an academic essay, could it be deemed a long summary from multiple sources? Or would it just be a random, non-academic, plagiarized piece of writing that I just wrote without using my own ideas? In other words, a piece of writing produced following neither the academic essay nor the academic summary formats.

Sorry if my questions are too obvious, but I just need to clarify these points.

  • 1
    -1. Your example paragraph doesn't look like it's trying to demonstrate MLA style at all; it's demonstrating cohesion and paragraph structure (opening statement; advantages of Smith, each one with a clear "lead-in" statement in red, then supporting detail; finally a summary of the main claim). That invalidates pretty much all your assumptions regarding citations.
    – Standback
    Apr 11, 2016 at 19:24

1 Answer 1


To avoid unintentional plagiarism, the safe thing to do is always to give a citation. The form of the citation depends on the style sheet being used, whether it's a footnote or an endnote or the citation is included inline.

Putting a "Works Cited" at the end without having any citations in the text would be inaccurate. If there are no citations, then how can you have any "works cited"? You could have a "Bibliography" or "List of Works Referenced", but I think most academic institutions would see this as evasive. Okay, you're acknowledging that you consulted these sources, but you're not giving any clue what information came from these sources.

If your problem is that you are comparing two sources, and so sentence 1 may come from source A, sentences 2 and 3 from B, 4 and 5 from A, 6 from B, etc, I think an accepted alternative to having a hundred footnotes is to just put two at the end. That is, give all the information coming from the two sources, and then at the end have, e.g. footnotes "1,2", and then list the two sources.

If you are mixing information from these sources with your own comparisons, observations and conclusions, it gets more complicated. At that point you probably should have a mess of footnotes. Note you don't have to repeat all the information every time, you can use "ibid" and "op cit".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.