San Diego


Their Use and Acknowledgment


This booklet has been prepared for the instruction and use of all UCSD undergraduates. It is based upon one written for the students of Dartmouth College. Permission to reprint the text of the original booklet was granted by the authors, Thaddeus Seymour, Harold L. Bond, and John L. Stewart, the Dartmouth Press, and the Trustees of Dartmouth College. We are confident that careful and thoughtful study of its contents will help you with the perplexing problems which arise when you incorporate into your written work material drawn from outside sources.



Instruction at UCSD has stressed increasingly the importance of independent learning. For some students - a senior doing field work in sociology or a major engaged upon research in psychology or biochemistry - such independent learning occasionally involves the discovery of wholly new data and the formulation of new hypotheses. But for most students it means hunting out information recorded by someone else and using it as a basis for their own conceptions and evaluations. With perhaps only a few suggestions on where to begin, they go to the library, get from books, newspapers, and periodicals the material they need, and independently make and defend their own interpretations and judgments. Though research of this kind may seem to lack the glamour of laboratory projects or on-the-spot observation, it is an indispensable part of education at the college level and of preparation for professional work. Scholars writing for learned journals, lawyers examining precedent-setting cases, business executives studying market analyses, doctors looking up articles on new medical developments, and civic leaders weighing reports prepared by consultants and drawing up recommendations to be submitted to community groups - all these are using in some way those techniques of independent learning from printed sources which UCSD wants its students to acquire while they are here.

To this end and to enrich their understanding of the subject in classes, discussion meetings, and seminars, students are asked to prepare reports incorporating, in varying ways and degrees, material taken from books and articles. Among these are library research papers for literature and other courses, senior theses written by UCSD students for a special project, short factual reports required in the social sciences, interpretive and evaluative essays for advanced literature and philosophy courses, and the progress reports prepared for seminars. Thus few students can go for long without being expected to do some writing involving the selecting and arranging of facts and ideas made available to them through printed media by the efforts of others.

Consequently, few students can go for long without coming up against the problem of making proper acknowledgment of their indebtedness to the scholars who first put down those facts and ideas.  Students sometimes ask why such acknowledgment is needed: after all, at UCSD we are participating in a world-wide cooperative search for knowledge; and scholars have publicized their discoveries, writers have labored over their books, in hopes that others like ourselves will use them in their search. But a moment's thought will show why. In one way or another a writer is rewarded for his work - by grades, by advancement in class standing, by credit toward graduation, by prestige, and, after graduation, by promotions, fellowships and other awards, and just plain cash. He must, therefore, be rewarded for his  work, for his ideas, for his particular skill in finding, discriminating among, and organizing in his own way the thoughts of others, for his good judgment in deciding when to use the actual words of his sources. It should be understood that his effectiveness in preparing a lucid and forceful combination of materials taken from the writing of others is quite as much a part of his achievement as any other portion of his work. But it must be identified and appraised for what it is. Otherwise the rewards are unfairly gained by what amounts to misrepresentation.

Moreover, acknowledgment is needed for another reason that is not mentioned as often as it should be. The reader of a report based in part on printed materials may wish to examine those materials himself to get a larger understanding of the subject. A student may wonder what material he could uncover that would not be known already to the professor reading his report. Actually, even in his first year of college he may turn up a good deal. Certainly by the time he has come to writing a senior thesis or a report for a seminar, he should have advanced well beyond the limit of his professor's knowledge of many aspects of his subject, and his citation sources may be of prime importance to others. Even when preparing what may seem to him to be the most ordinary sort of report, a student should assume that acknowledgment of his sources may be useful to his reader. Mutual aid is one of the great traditions of higher learning and no opportunity to provide it, however slight, should be neglected.

Most students understand in a general way the uses and importance of indicating where they obtained their material and are prepared to make proper citations when needed. Writing what has been plainly identified as library research  paper,  they recognize from the outset that assimilating and acknowledging material from books and articles are definitive parts of the undertaking. If they avoid inaccuracies and errors of format, they are not likely to have trouble in treating the material. Difficulties come for some students when they turn to reports which are not based primarily on library research yet do involve consulting printed sources. For example, in writing a paper on William Faulkner's ideas about the benefits of living close to nature as expressed in "The Bear," a student plans to get most of his material simply by studying that story. His essay will be essentially interpretive and evaluative, and at the start he expects to depend wholly upon his own sensibility and judgment.  He may quote passages from "The Bear" to illustrate his points, but he does not foresee any need for other sources. Then, as he gets into his subject, he is puzzled by some of the narrative and decides to look up a good general study of Faulkner or, if he can find one, an article on this particular story.  Eventually he uncovers an essay on "The Bear  in one of the literary quarterlies and finds there a discussion of the very points that bothered him. He makes a few notes and thinks that when the paper is finished he will append a postscript pointing out that he had consulted this essay. But after he has written the section of his report covering the topics on which the essay was helpful, he wonders if he should make further acknowledgment. The report is entirely in his own words. There will be a bibliographical reference at the end. Is more required? Is his use of the source so close and specific as to warrant footnotes? If he cannot answer these questions with assurance, he may inadvertently get himself into embarrassing and serious difficulties.

Or again, a student is preparing a book report, and the title of his report clearly indicates that it is a study of one particular book.  Presumably in such a study he will have occasion to refer to its ideas; presumably, too, the person for whom the report is written is familiar with the book and knows where the ideas are to be found. There seems little chance that this person, upon encountering these ideas in the report, would not recognize at once where they came from.  If the writer does not quote the exact words of the book, what need does he have for footnotes in view of the fact that his whole report is focused upon the source of the ideas and discussion of them is manifestly a normal and necessary procedure in such a paper? Obviously, in a report such as this it would be foolish to be constantly referring to the book itself as the source of the' broad genera. However, in the wording of the report any pages upon which specific facts appear must be given, and failure to cite them can lead to trouble.

Sometimes, of course, the trouble goes deeper than mere uncertainty over what seem to be borderline cases. Students occasionally reach college without ever having been required to make any acknowledgment of indebtedness to outside sources. They may have been permitted as a consequence of indifference or inadequate supervision on the part of their teachers to copy passages from encyclopedias and other sources without even bothering to place the material in quotation marks let alone indicating where it came from.  Or, if not going quite that far, they may have gotten by with paraphrases in which most of the significant phrases have been taken over from their sources with no more acknowledgment than an incomplete and slovenly bibliographical note at the end of the paper. On the other hand, there are a few students who know well enough how to make acknowledgments but take such careless notes that their own words and phrases get tangled up with those of their sources and later on they cannot separate them. Even so, their consciences should tell them that some acknowledgment of the borrowing of ideas is required. But students so irresponsible as to confuse their notes to this degree are not likely to pay much attention to their consciences - not because they are dishonest but because they are just plain sloppy and lazy.  Sometimes they think they can ignore the whole problem on the grounds that since they did not have the actual book or article open before them when they wrote their report and did not directly transcribe passages, no reference to their source is required. Later they may be dumbfounded when an irate teacher points out the word-for-word parallels between their `own' writing and the source from which their material came and charges them with plagiarism. In recent years some essentially honest but slap-dash students have been severely punished for just this kind of negligence.

Finally, quite conscientious students sometimes find themselves unable to decide whether some of their material is of such common knowledge as to require no reference to a source or is sufficiently specialized to need it. Of all the problems confronting the student writer, this is one of the most vexatious.  It is worth going into a little further.

There is a simple rule which should cover many such decisions: If you knew it or held it as your own opinion before you began preparing your paper, it need not be acknowledged (unless you had recently acquired it from your reading). If you got from some outside source after beginning preparations, it must be acknowledged 1.  Sometime the materials from an outside source are extremely broad and contribute only to your general understanding of the subject. If so, acknowledgment by means of a bibliographical note at the end is sufficient. But wherever they are specific facts, explanations, judgments, opinions, or their exact source must be given.... SUCH ACKNOWLEDGMENT IS REQUIRED EVEN WHEN YOU PRESENT THIS SPECIFIC MATERIAL ENTIRELY IN YOUR OWN WORDS.

Even with this rule to guide him, a student may have trouble deciding what is common knowledge.  Sometimes his memory gets hazy and he has to look up a bit of information which is ordinarily regarded as common knowledge. Here there would seem to be no more need to cite the source than to cite the dictionary when he looks up the spelling of a word.  For instance, he may have forgotten the exact speed of light and need to check the precise figure; yet he would not feel any obligation to say where found it. He could properly regard as common knowledge, even if he wanted to play safe and do a little reviewing before using it, such material as general facts of American history of the kind learned in grade school, well-known information about English literature and famous authors (as, for example, the date of Shakespeare's birth and death; but he would cite the source of information about the probable date for the composition of The Tempest), general scientific laws such as Boyle's laws of gases or Newton's laws of motion and basic scientific data such as the valences or elements or the formula for nitric acid, or information about major events in politics and international relations of recent years. He might take a quick look through news magazines to get the names of the participating heads of state and the dates of the Yalta Conference but be under no obligation to cite the particular issue of Time or Newsweek in which he eventually found these facts. However, if while looking these up he came across a discussion of the collapse of the conference containing special opinions which struck him as apt and enlightening and suitable for inclusion in a report, the source would have to be given. The fact that these opinions appeared in a widely circulated magazine, that at one time many readers of that magazine went around solemnly repealing them, does not put them in the same class with basic facts of history or science. Though these opinions may have been widely current in the past, they have moved into the area of special material, if they were ever really out of it 2.  Actually, a little ordinary sense is all that is usually needed to determine what is common intellectual properly and what is not. Where the decision is close, it is best to cite one's source.

Even where acknowledgment is faithfully included, there are right and wrong ways of incorporating material from outside sources, and the right ones must be used lest the true nature of indebtedness  be obscured (Martin, 1959) ANY  DIRECT QUOTATION MUST BE PLACED IN QUOTATION MARKS (or otherwise designated as a direct quotation) AND THE SOURCE immediately CITED.... This rule holds even when the quotation is taken from a piece of writing - a story, poem, play, book, or whatever - that is the subject of the report. Some students have the odd notion that it applies only when the quotation is at least a complete sentence and that phrases can be transcribed without quotation marks or acknowledgment. But any phrase so appropriate and effective as to be taken over from the original should be treated in this way. So should an especially apt epithet. A student is unlikely to transcribe exactly any material unless it contains some special, some notably succinct and specific fact,  attitude, or emphasis which he was not aware before he found it in a printed text; and he would not borrow it if he were not hoping that by using it he would add clarity and distinction to his report. Such borrowing for such a purpose is entirely proper provided the student makes clear by means of the suitable format that he should be credited with finding and electing to quote the material rather than with actually phrasing it - and provided, too, that his report is not mainly a pasting together of scraps of other men's writing.

From time to time one comes across what Harold C. Martin (1959) calls "the mosaic": a conglomeration of phrases lifted out or context and rearranged, without quotation marks, around linking materials supplied by the student. The following example shows how such a conglomeration is made.

When the famous American jazz musician Duke Ellington first visited England in the summer of l933, British audiences were overwhelmed by the energy and spectacular dexterity of his orchestra. The reviewer for the stately London Times wrote:

Mr. Duke Ellington ... is exceptionally and remarkably efficient in his own line. He does at once and with apparently easy show of ingenuity what a jazz band commonly does with difficulty or fails to do. And the and exacerbation of the nerves which are caused by the performances of his orchestra are the more disquieting by reason of his complete control and precision. It is not an orgy but a scientific application of measured and dangerous stimuli. ... The expert who could disregard their emotional effect might conceivably derive an artistic enjoyment from his rhythms. But the ordinary listener probably does not and probably is not intended to do so. It is enough that the effect should be immediate and violent (Ulanov, 1946, p. 138).

The maker of a "mosaic" would write something like this:

The Duke is a remarkably efficient performer and does easily what most musicians to only with difficulty. The excitement and exacerbation of the nerves felt by his listeners are made stronger by his complete precision and control. He and his arrangers and players plan everything so carefully that what seems at first to be an orgy is actually a scientific application Of measured and dangerous stimuli. The effect is so immediately and violent that the listeners find it difficult to regard his music as art. But probably the Duke does not intend that they should.

Several kinds of misrepresentation are involved here. To begin with, there is the obvious one of language: the student writer is trying to give the impression that some of the more striking phrases in the passage are his natural, personal way of expressing his reactions to Ellington's music. Actually, a careful reader will see at once that there are sudden shifts and idiom in the paper. The kind of student that fabricates a "mosaic" is not the kind that uses the word exacerbation  or speaks of "a scientific application of measured and dangerous stimuli." But this is not the most serious misrepresentation. Though it is worded as a flat assertion the passage from the Times review is really a very personal and debatable opinion, interesting as representing the puzzled reaction of the British to an entirely new kind of musical experience, but not to be taken as an established fact. Borrowed without attribution, the phrases have the effect of seeming to reflect the very personal (and still debatable) opinion of the student, though he may think that they state a fact about Ellington's music. Thus the "mosaic" is not only dishonest but downright misleading: it obscures what it is intended to make clear.

There have been students so naive that, given this instance, they would suppose that because the original passage from the Times has not been reproduced exactly no acknowledgment is required. They overlook the writer's complete dependency on the ideas of the Times critic. But even if acknowledgment were made, serious misrepresentation would still be present. As Martin says: "There is really no way of legitimizing such a procedure. To put every stolen phrase within quotation marks would produce an almost unreadable, and quite worthless, text" (Martin, 1959, p. 180).

Essays on a single book, play, long poem or story, or other extended pieces of writing present special problems. There is a considerable difference between consulting a book for aid in writing a paper and making the book itself the subject of the paper, as it is, for example, in many of the essays written for literature courses. The difference affects most obviously the student's treatment of those broad concepts that extend through large portions or even the whole of a book or long work. These may not be common intellectual property; they may have been quite unknown to the student before he looked into the book. If the student takes the concepts from the book to assist him in treating a subject which is not the book itself (or some aspect of it), then he is using them in such a way as puts him in debt to the author and necessitates acknowledgment in the appropriate form.  But suppose he is writing about the book itself (or some aspect of it); then these concepts, if they are part of its fundamental subject matter and help to determine its overall organization are objects central to the student's discussion and would be treated in such a manner as to require no acknowledgment since their relation to both the original text and the student's paper is clear to the reader.  The student is writing about them, not using them to write about something else. He is examining them, not depending on them. Thus, for example, a freshman or sophomore writing about a book read for the Muir Contemporary Issues program or the Revelle humanities sequence and discussing the general concepts running though the book as a whole would be doing exactly what he should be and in such a way that citations of sources would be superfluous, as we have already pointed out above. But when in the course of his discussion he turns to specific facts, opinions, and the lesser, more particularized concepts from which the higher concepts are inferred or to which they are applied, he should cite the place where this information is to be found, not so much as an acknowledgment of indebtedness (though there is a good deal) but as an aid to the reader who may wish to consult the source himself. Of course, even in a report or this kind all direct quotations are placed in quotation marks (or otherwise set off), and their sources are given. And if the student goes to another work for assistance, anything taken from it must be acknowledged.

Students sometimes fail to recognize that any editorial matter included in a book constitutes such another assisting source. For instance, in writing an essay on a novel by Joseph Conrad they may think that anything said in an introduction (such as Morton D. Zabel's introduction to Under Western Eyes. Robert Penn Warren's "Nosiromo," or even Conrad's own "The Nigger of the Narcissus," being at least physically part of the book under discussion need not be acknowledge unless used in a direct quotation.  Actually, such introductory comment, though printed between the same covers, is NOT part of the work, and all indebtedness to it must be made clear just as if it were printed in some other volume or a periodical. Students writing a book report for a literature course have made the mistake of using an editor's ideas without acknowledgment thinking that they were simply another portion of the book under discussion. For this they have sometimes suffered severe penalties.


1. Though this discussion is concerned with acknowledging the source of material taken from books and articles, one has exactly the same obligation to cite any indebtedness to class or public lectures, student papers, and even discussions with friends, and roommates.  If two students writing on the same subject talk it over together, they should take special care to acknowledge any exchange of facts or opinions.

2. Certain kinds of general knowledge in time become specialized. The facts about the summit conference just cited will crease to be widely known, and students writing papers about things happening today will have to acknowledge the sources of their information about what we regard as the most common-place facts. Few college students can name the five heads of state that took part in the peace conference following the First World War. They may remember Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau, but they would have to look up Orlando of Italy and Makino of Japan and cite the source of this special information.


   Martin, C. (1959).  Logic and Rhetoric of Exposition.  New York:  Rinehart and Company.

   Ulanov, B. (1946).  Duke Ellington.  New York: New York Creative Age Press, Inc.