Library Research: A Step-By-Step Guide

Use this guide to learn more about the research process

Step 4: Write

How do I incorporate sources into my paper or presentation?


  • How does this contribute to my understanding of the topic? 
    • Can I use it as background information to begin my paper?
    • Can I use it to change the focus or direction of my paper? 
  • How does this source relate to other information I've found?
    • Can I make smooth transitions between thoughts/paragraphs by making connections between sources?
  • Does the source provide real-life stories or statistics that illustrate an abstract idea?
    • Can I insert these into my paper for emotional impact or attention-grabbing devices?
  • Does the source support my thesis, argument or claim?
    • Can I use it as evidence in my supporting paragraphs?
    • Can I use it as a counterargument?
  • What questions or further investigations does it raise?
    • Can I make recommendations or leave questions for the reader to ponder at the end of my paper?
  • Is the source not exactly what I was looking for?
    • Is it close enough and good enough that I can still figure out a way to creatively incorporate it in my paper?

Video: How to Avoid Plagiarism in 5 Easy Steps

Source: "How to Avoid Plagiarism: In 5 Easy Steps" by Steelman Library, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn how plagiarism can be intentional and unintentional and how to avoid plagiarizing by paraphrasing and citing your sources.

Three Methods for incorporating sources

Know these methods

  1. Summarize

  2. Paraphrase

  3. Quote

It is best to mostly summarize and paraphrase your sources instead of quoting them. This improves the flow of your paper and makes it more coherent for readers.


state the main ideas of a source concisely and in your own words. Keep if brief and to the point. Always indicate the source you are summarizing. A summary is much shorter in length than the source. 

TIP: Practice explaining out loud a source you would like to summarize. 


restate, in your own words, information from a source, like a conclusion or particularly important point. Always cite the source you paraphrase. A paraphrase is usually about the same length as the original.


use someone's exact words when rewording will not do justice to the original statement, the person you are citing is a known authority, for accuracy, or for conciseness. Use quotes sparingly.

  • Limit the use of direct quotes to at most, 20% of the paper (exception: papers on literary works).
  • Put quotation marks around a quote.
  • In APA format, quotation marks are used for quotes less than 5 lines only. 
  • Indent direct quotes five or more lines (MLA), or 40+ words (APA). 
  • Use ellipses (three dots...where the...words were...removed) to indicate omissions from a direct quote. Be careful to not lose context or the true meaning of the statement by omitting parts.
  • Indicate additions or changes with [brackets]

Using Information from another Source


A summary is a brief synopsis of the key points of a work. A summary is written in your own words and credits the original source.

Click on the link below to download a copy of an 8 step guide to help you summarize!


Paraphrasing refers to restating someone's ideas in your own words. Note that says ideas - not words! Paraphrasing is not just rewriting a sentence using your own words! That's a surefire way to plagiarize! Writing the ideas, or meaning of what you read, however, is the best way to go! And you must give credit when you paraphrase. Click on the link below to download a copy of an 6 step guide to help you paraphrase!

Weaving it all together

Most college level writing - and in fact, life writing - requires you to do more than summarize and paraphrase! You also need to be able to tie it all together into your own discussion and analysis. 

Writing texts refer to this process by different names; The Write Stuff describes it as making an "ice cream sandwich" in which you wrap other's ideas and words within your own analysis. In other words, you sandwich them.

The Ice Cream Sandwich: Framing Facts and Sources

Top Cookie:

A sentence or two to introduce the point you want to make or critique


The text reference that supports your point. Be sure to put the summaries and paraphrases into a sentence of your own:


Paraphrase > plus page number (in parentheses)

Direct quote

Bottom Cookie:

Interpretation and analysis

Interpretation (what is being said - define key terms when necessary)

Analysis (what the messages are and a critique of the author's ideas, writing style, or techniques)


Sims, Marcie. “The Ice Cream Sandwich: Framing Facts and Sources” The Write Stuff: Thinking through Essays. 2nd ed. Boston: Prentice-Hall. 2012. 337-338. Print.

The most common form of “accidental” plagiarism is the result of poor paraphrasing skills.This type of “accidental” plagiarism occurs when you actually cite a source, but the amount of material you use from that source, or the overall writing style—i.e., use of words, phrases, and writing patterns—is too close to the original (without using quotation marks). Be careful about relying too much in a paper on someone else’s words or ideas. Basically, if you use too many of the same phrases or words from the original and do not use quotation marks, it is considered plagiarism even if you cite the source.

Examples of attempted paraphrasing

Original Source Excerpt

Such savvy borrowing may be lost on some educators, but others, like librarians, are catching up. “Students are finding it so easy to use these sources that they will dump them in the middle of the papers without any attribution,” says John Ruszkiewicz, an English professor at Texas. “What they don’t realize is how readily [professors] can tell the material isn’t the student’s and how easy it is for instructors to search this material on the Web” (434).

Student Version A—Plagiarism:

Students borrowing from the Web may be lost on some educators, but some teachers and librarians are catching up. Some students use chunks of other sources right in the middle of their papers without citations. But what these students often don’t realize is how easily professors can tell the material isn’t the student’s and how the instructors can easily search and find this material on the Web too.

This paraphrase is an example of plagiarism because the student uses many of the same phrases as the original passage and the same overall style and structure as the original author with just a few substitution words or phrases (without using any quotation marks and without citations).

Student Version B—Attempted Paraphrase—But Still Plagiarism:

According to Mark Clayton, students borrowing from the Internet may be missed by some teachers, but others are catching it. Students find it easy to use these sources and will put them in their papers without citations or credit. However, they don’t realize that professors can tell the material isn’t the student’s and that it is easy for them to search the web and find this material too.

This paraphrase is an example of “accidental” plagiarism because the student has combined a couple sentences, substituted a few words, but still has used the same overall structure with minor substitutions and has given a nod to the original author with a tagline but still does not have a proper parenthetical citation anywhere in the paraphrase.

Student Version C—Appropriate Paraphrase—Not Plagiarism:

According to Mark Clayton's article, "A Whole Lot of Cheatin' Going On," many students are using the Internet to research sources on topics they write about, but they are using these sources in their papers without giving any credit to the original authors. Clayton also points out that teachers and librarians are figuring out what's going on and can recognize when it is not the student's own work. Furthermore, teachers can find the sources themselves on the Internet and prove that the student has plagiarized (434).

This student has paraphrased using his or her own words and sentence constructions, and the student has accurately reflected the author's ideas and cited him correctly both with a tag and a parenthetical citation.

Content in this “Types of accidental plagiarism” section is reused with permission from Sims, Marcie. The Write Stuff: Thinking Through Essays. Upper Saddle River : Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.

Tips for avoiding plagiarism

To avoid plagiarism writers must be aware of three concerns: ethical, legal, and methodological.

Every time you use another person’s words or thoughts, you have both a legal and ethical obligation to give that person (also called a source) credit. To fulfill those obligations you must know the methods by which to correctly credit that source. That means using a specific documentation style or format (the most common being MLA, APA, and Chicago Manual of Style). Thus, avoiding plagiarism starts with being aware of what it is and then taking the precautions necessary to document and cite all the sources, even if the writers just gained an insight or idea from another person.

Here are some helpful  tips:
  • Take careful notes and mark direct quotes and summarized ideas with the page numbers they came from.

  • In the process of searching for secondary sources, especially when using the Internet, you should be sure to take detailed notes about the source information of any piece you are even considering using in your paper.

  • Make sure to use your own words and sentence constructions and even your own style when you paraphrase or summarize the ideas of others. You still need to  credit the original source clearly to avoid plagiarism.

Many students intentionally cheat and copy ideas or words without giving credit to the original author. Some students, though, are guilty of just being unaware of the rules for citing sources or maybe even of dismissing that nagging feeling that they might be improperly using other people’s ideas. You should never try to claim lack of awareness as an excuse. Since you are in college now, as a writer, you must be responsible and scholarly and always give credit for others’ ideas or words. You are stealing someone else’s intellectual property when you plagiarize. It is a serious offence with serious consequences.

Content in this “Tips for avoiding plagiarism” section is reused with permission from Sims, Marcie. The Write Stuff: Thinking Through Essays. Upper Saddle River : Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.

Get started!

Decorative image of a person writing and a thought bubble with books

Getting started can often be the hardest part! But sometimes, all you need to do is begin! Map out your essay and plan to paraphrase, summarize, or quote from the sources you found! 

Image source: "Student studies" by Mohamed Hassan is in the Public Domain, CC0

Writing tips!

Be organized!

NoodleTools LogoSave time, make the writing process easier, and write a better paper, by being organized with your research process, your ideas and your paper. Use Noodle Tools, free to GRC students, to get organized.

Develop or improve your note-taking habits

  • Take notes in your own words, label things that you paraphrase and provide appropriate documentation.
  • When taking notes, place direct quotations in quotation marks and provide appropriate and complete documentation.
  • Make a list of the writers and viewpoints you discover in your research.
  • Be careful of internet sources that may just recycle or plagiarize other sources.
  • Clearly organize your notes into three categories: your ideas, your summaries of the contents of a source, and any exact wording you write or copy from a source.

Keep to the basic paper components

  • Your thesis.
  • The main ideas or arguments that support your thesis. Present them in a logical order.
  • Transition words, phrases and sentences which improve the flow of your paper.
  • A concluding paragraph that sums up the main points.