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Why Should You Cite?

It's the law and it's there for you too

If you saw a Jaguar idling by the road, nobody in sight anywhere, would it be right or wrong to jump in and take it for a spin, even just around the block?

When you see someone's work in a book or on the Web that says exactly what you want to say in your paper, is it right or wrong to use it without documenting its origin?

Taking the Jaguar for a spin is a form of stealing, even if it's temporary. Using someone's work without giving credit is stealing, too.

There are two reasons why you should bother citing your sources:

Number 1 — It's illegal
You could be caught and be expected to pay the price.

SCHOOL: If an instructor finds out, it could mean more than just a zero or an 'F' on a paper. Institutions impose penalties ranging from a failing grade on the assignment or for the course itself, to suspension, expulsion, and transcript annotations so that future schools or employers viewing your transcript will see a note indicating that you cheated.

IN THE 'REAL' WORLD: If the originator finds out, he or she could sue you.

Number 2 — It could affect you one day
If you wrote a best-selling novel or invented an anti-gravity backpack, wouldn't you want to receive what's due to you based on its success?

Let's say you are that best-selling novelist and you found a copy of your novel made available on the Web to everyone who wants it. That means people are getting your work for free and you aren't getting the royalties from its distribution.

Or, let's say you are that inventor. Someone copies your anti-gravity backpack, calls it something else and puts it up for sale at Wal-Mart before you do. They make all the money, and you are left penniless.

Well, that doesn't happen because the law protects you.

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