Many of the visitors to these pages have come for help with an assignment or essay. We are glad to be of help, but in order to avoid plagiarism — a serious academic charge which can result in failing your course or even expulsion from your college or university — you must be meticulous in your citations.

The general rule is: when you make use of a source, you must cite it. If you are using a direct quotation, then you must in addition use a block quote or quotation marks, to show that these are not your own words, but the words of the author you are citing.

The precise format for footnotes or bibliographical citations varies depending on the system you are using, but when you are referring to a text which you have found on the Internet, you should give the following information:

— the author

— the title of the post

— name of the web site

— the precise URL

— the date when you accessed the material.

For example, if you are citing the answer by Martin Jenkins on Hobbes’ case for an absolute monarch you would write something like this:

Martin Jenkins ‘Hobbes’ case for an absolute monarch’ Ask a Philosopher https://askaphilosopher.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/hobbes-case-for-an-absolute-monarch/ [accessed 30th December 2015]

The access date is important because articles can be substantially altered or even removed. However, there will nearly always be a saved copy of the page on the Internet Archive:

http://web.archive.org/web/20151130131358/https://askaphilosopher.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/hobbes-case-for-an-absolute-monarch/

This is the URL of the page you will see if you look up the version of Martin Jenkins’ article on ‘Hobbes’ case for an absolute monarch’ archived on 30th December 2015.

It is important not just to respect the rules about plagiarism, but also the spirit of the rules. The best way to avoid near or borderline plagiarism is to always think for yourself and use your own words. Don’t let the citations do the heavy lifting for you. And don’t think that by changing a few words, you can represent the author’s words as your own.

A properly referenced essay has authority and makes the case more strongly than it would have without the footnotes or references. But not everything you find on the Internet has equal value as a reference. That is something you have to judge for yourself in each particular case.

Geoffrey Klempner