Citing Sources


Colorado College has a long and strong tradition of academic integrity, which has been formalized into The Honor Code. The Colorado College Honor Council website details the code, standards of behavior, and administrative procedures, with which all students should be deeply familiar.

Proper academic citation and referencing, use of quotations and paraphrasing, and avoidance of pitfalls like relexification, are skills that require effort and learning over time rather than being based on intuition or talent. The information below is offered as additional support for enhancing and applying those skills in practice for academic assignments in the Psychology Department and more broadly.

This page is a supporting guide only and should in no way be considered exhaustive or the final authority.

Definitions Standards Quotations Paraphrasing References


Plagiarism Defined

Plagiarism: "The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own."
- The New Oxford American Dictionary

Plagiarism: "The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work."

Plagiarism: "Psychologists do not present portions of another's work or data as their own, even if the other work or data source is cited occasionally."
- APA Ethics Code Standard 8.11, Plagiarism

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In academia, plagiarism is considered a serious offense because independent thinking is highly valued (Fanning, 1992). Complex ideas and formulations belong, as intellectual property, to those who created them. However, scholarship is a community activity that relies greatly on the dissemination and sharing of ideas. As such, permission to use others' ideas is generally granted in exchange for proper citation, referencing, and acknowledgement for the original source.

In the field of Psychology, guidance for proper acknowledgment is outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). Students writing in Psychology should familiarize themselves with the conventions from the most recent version of the APA Publication Manual.

The APA Publication Manual, 7th Ed. (2020, pp. 254-255) states the following standard:

  • Plagiarism is the act of presenting the words, ideas, or images of another as your own; it denies authors or creators of content the credit they are due. Whether deliberate or unintentional, plagiarism violates ethical standards in scholarship (see APA Ethics Code Standard 8.11, Plagiarism). . . To avoid plagiarism, provide appropriate credit to the source … Check your work carefully to ensure that you acknowledge the words and ideas of others with citations in the text that have corresponding reference list entries.”

See Also: American Psychological Association: Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct

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A quotation is an exact copy of the language from a source; for this you use quotation marks, cite the reference and the page number(s)--as detailed in the APA Publication Manual (2020). In general, one quotes scientific writing only when the original text contains memorable words or phrases. These quotes generally have emotional overtones, and often express the original author's bias. Because science is primarily concerned with information (more so than how the ideas are expressed), quotations are very rare in scientific writing . Overuse of quotations detracts from a paper in both style and content, and might be perceived by readers as a lack of effort on the part of the writer.

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Paraphrasing is a presentation of information from another source in your own words (and therefore in your own style and syntax). For an in-text citation, you only need to give the source of the original text (no page number). Paraphrasing is very common in scientific writing because you often base your arguments on information synthesized from other sources. You should paraphrase and cite when you want to simplify or summarize ideas presented in the original text.


The following example is an excerpt from a paper and illustrates paraphrasing:

  • Age-related metabolic alterations include a global reduction in the brain's energy requirements, as manifested by decreases in cerebral blood flow (Melamed et al., 1980) and cerebral glucose utilization (Leenders et al., 1990).

Note that this sentence summarizes the general findings from several studies and thereby emphasizes only very general information, that is, the main findings of the cited sources. This is probably the most common type of paraphrase in scientific writing.


Avoiding the mistake of relexification, use of synonyms without changing sentence structure.

A successful paraphrase allows the writer to avoid copying the exact words or syntax (grammar) of an original source. Simply substituting synonyms within the syntax of the original sentence is plagiarism insofar as the original idea and syntax are being copied, even if the source is cited. The following is an example of relexification:

  • Original Text: "States of consciousness occur when the system responsible for awareness becomes privy to the activity occurring in unconscious processing systems." (LeDoux, 1996, p. 19).
  • Plagiarized version (because of relexification): States of awareness happen when the system controlling awareness receives access to the workings of unconscious mechanisms (LeDoux, 1996).

How To Paraphrase

  1. You must understand fully the text you want to paraphrase; this means you must read it very carefully and know the context in which the information is found. So make sure you have read several paragraphs before and several paragraphs after the information you want to paraphrase. This will help to avoid mistakes that might occur if you take something out of context.
  2. Determine the main ideas of the text you want to paraphrase or summarize.
  3. Locate any key words for which synonyms would sound strange; you will probably keep these in your paraphrase unless they are emotional words that express the personal opinion of the author, in which case you should use a quote. But avoid relexification.
  4. Keeping these key words, and with the main idea of the passage in your head, put away the article and try to express the idea in your own words. You may have to rewrite your paraphrase several times before you express it in a satisfactory way. Remember, you want to keep the main idea the same and you want the paraphrase to be well-integrated into the flow of your own paper.
  5. Make sure you cite the source of your paraphrase--according to the APA format.
  6. Note that it is often better to put the source of a paraphrase parenthetically, especially if the information is the focus of the paraphrase. If a particular researcher is the focus, then the article can be cited directly (rather than parenthetically). For example:
  • It appears that X (Hofer, 1987).
    [Note this form emphasizes the information in Hofer (1987).]
  • Hofer (1987) maintains that X.
    [Note this form emphasizes the researcher, namely Hofer (1987).]

More Paraphrasing Examples

  1. Paraphrased passage...
    • Although several human studies have examined age-related changes in synaptic density (Huttenlocher, 1979), few have specifically addressed spine density in the aging brain. One human investigation (Schierhorn, 1981), however, quantified spine alterations in three prefrontal regions and the angular gyrus. In 20 individuals between 40 and 88 years of age, Schierhorn found that spine density (ranging from 0.35 to 0.45) on the apical dendrite of layer V neurons decreased by approximately 20-30%.

    In addition to the initial summary paraphrase (e.g., for Huttenlocher, 1979), the above passage provides detailed information from Schierhorn (1981)--here it is important to place some emphasis on the article itself because it is the only one of its kind. Note, however, that the focus is on the information itself, which has been paraphrased from the original German article.]
  2. Example of original passage and good and bad paraphrasing technique...
    • Original Text: "The intangible atmosphere of the jobless world is less familiar only because it is ordinarily more private, often downright obscure" (Trippett, 1982, p. 90).
    • Bad Paraphrase: According to Trippett (1982), the untouchable realm of joblessness is not very well known because it is private and sometimes hard to understand.
    • Better paraphrase: It is often difficult to understand what it is like to be jobless because it is a matter that is seldom open to public display (Trippett, 1982).

    The first paraphrase is an example of relexification. Moreover, it emphasizes the Trippett article by introducing it in the fronted adverbial phrase (i.e., "According to Trippett"). The second paraphrase is much better insofar as the information, correctly paraphrased, is emphasized over the Trippett article itself, which is only cited parenthetically. Such a paraphrase will fit much better into the context of the writer's paper.

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American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Fanning, P. (1992). Countering language plagiarism: A materials approach. Cross Currents, 19, 167-173.

Hofer, M. (1987). Early social relationships: A psychologists view. Child Development, 58, 633-647.

Honor Council (1977). Source acknowledgement (3rd ed., revised). Colorado College.

Huttenlocher, P. (1979). Synaptic density in human frontal cortex: Developmental changes and effects of aging. Brain Research, 163, 195-205.

LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Leenders, K., Perani, D., Lammertsma, A., Heather, J., Buckingham, P., Healy, M. et al. (1990). Cerebral blood flow, blood volume and oxygen utilization: Normal values and effect of age. Brain, 113, 27-47.

Melamed, E., Levy, S., Bentin, S., Cooper, G., & Rinot, Y. (1980). Reduction in regional cerebral blood flow during normal aging in man. Stroke, 11, 31-35.

Oxford University Press (2001). The new oxford american dictionary. New York, NY: Author

Pathfinder. Office of the Dean of Students. Colorado College.

plagiarism. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved December 02, 2009, from website:

Schierhorn, H. (1981). Structural changes in neocortical pyramidal neurons in man in the 5th to 9th decade. Psychiatrie, Neurologie, und Medizinische Psychologie, 33, 664-673.

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