- Principles of Citing Sources
- Citing Books
- Citing Articles
- Citing Internet Sources
- Citing Miscellaneous Sources
- Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism
One convenience of using electronic sources is the ability—once you’ve selected the passages you wish to quote—to copy and paste quotations instead of having the retype them into your paper. Even before you begin drafting a paper, copying and pasting sections from your sources seems an easy way to take notes, so that you can look the material over later without surfing back to the website. This very convenience, however, also leads writers into danger. In the midst of researching and taking notes, it’s just too easy to paste quotations into your file with the intention to go back later and note down the source. When you return to your draft, it can be hard to distinguish your own writing from the passages you’ve copied.
As discussed in Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism, the worst consequence of failing to acknowledge sources is to yourself: if you paste in someone’s words as your own, you will miss the opportunity to add your commentary, and therefore miss an opportunity to grow as a thinker and writer. Most of this guide focuses on such intellectual reasons for working properly with sources, rather than emphasizing the penalties of plagiarism. But because the copy and paste technique is so common, it’s especially important to warn you about its potential for abuse. Every year students come before the Yale Executive Committee having committed plagiarism through pasting material from the Internet into their papers and then forgetting to go back and identify the sources. Even when the oversight seems unintentional, these students are guilty of plagiarism, and must face penalties.
But you can avoid this danger with one very simple precaution:
Every time you highlight material from a website to use in your paper, save the material to a new file. Copy the URL (the full web address that begins with “http”) at the top of the new file, and give the file a name that briefly identifies the website.
Taking this extra step will allow you to review your sources when you’ve made more progress with your paper. So if you were thinking of using a piece of this web page in your paper, you'd copy the relevant portion into a Word file, add the URL, and perhaps call the file "Writing at Yale Copy/Paste Advice." You’ll still be able to avoid retyping by copying and pasting from the new file you’ve made. But you will have created a record of your excerpts to help you distinguish your sources from your own work. For your own convenience, you may also want to add other citation information below the URL—such as author and date of access—before moving on to examine the next website. See Special Demands of Internet Sources for more information about how to cite websites. See also Scholarly vs. Popular Sources for advice about how to use Internet sources effectively.
Note: Even when you properly identify Internet sources, the very pasting that feels like a time-saver can lead you to use block quotations that are longer and less precise than necessary. Many writers, especially beginning academic writers, are better served by retyping quotations, because this extra step leads them to edit quotations and to paraphrase. You could still cut and paste to help you keep track of interesting passages before deciding which ones to quote in your paper (remembering, as suggested above, to create a new file for each website you work with).