Skip to content

Using Sources Effectively and Responsibly

When submitting assignments, all work submitted must be your own and created specifically for each course. The only exceptions are instructor-assigned group projects and preapproved dual submissions.  Below Dean Spreadbury shares a personal message to you, our students, about the importance of academic integrity.


When crafting essay and papers you are required to follow standard academic guidelines for proper citation (e.g., APA, MLA, or Chicago Manual of Style). You must distinguish your own ideas and language from information derived from sources. Do not, intentionally or unintentionally, incorporate facts, ideas, or specific language taken from another source without citation.

This is also true of other assignments such as computer programs, take-home exams, online exams, lab reports, quizzes, etc. All work you submit in your courses must be your own and when it is not, it needs to be cited.

Student Responsibility

You are responsible for understanding Harvard Extension School policies on academic integrity and how to use sources responsibly. Not knowing the rules, misunderstanding the rules, running out of time, submitting “the wrong draft,” or being overwhelmed with multiple demands are not acceptable excuses. There are no excuses for failure to uphold academic integrity.

Instructor Responsibility

Instructors review student work for incidents of plagiarism (e.g., uncited or incorrectly cited source material) and cheating (e.g., unauthorized collaboration). If suspected, the assignment in question is sent directly to the Dean of Student Policy and Governance. The Dean of Student Policy and Governance works with both the instructor and the student to ensure fair and judicious due process of each case before the Administrative Board.

Consequences of Plagiarism and Cheating

The consequences for academic dishonesty (cheating and plagiarism) are severe, but appropriate given that it constitutes stealing others’ ideas and attempting to earn college credit for their work. Sanctions may include an RQ grade for the course—a permanent failing grade on your transcript—and suspension of registration privileges. Intention is not considered when adjudicating cases. The penalty can be the same if you intentionally or unintentionally plagiarize, if it is your first offense, or if it was a final paper, small assignment, or draft.

Resources to Support Academic Integrity

Harvard University, in general, and Harvard Extension School, in particular, offer resources to support your understanding of academic integrity and responsible use of sources.

The Harvard Guide to Using Sources

The Harvard Guide to Using Sources offers essential information about the use of sources in academic writing. To receive the most benefit, read the guide from beginning to end. You will gain a deep appreciation for why and how we use sources in academic writing and the ethical implication of improper citation. The guide is your must-consult resource throughout your entire Harvard Extension School career. It offers time-saving, step-by-step advice on how to properly integrate sources into your academic writing.

Online Tutorials

To support your commitment to academic integrity, the Career and Academic Resource Center and the Writing Program have developed two 15-minute online tutorials as companions to The Harvard Guide to Using Sources.

The tutorials are anonymous open-learning tools, not evaluation tools. While they take the form of yes-or-no and true-or-false exams, they are resources for you to use without the concern about passing or failing. You may need to complete the tutorials several times before you can answer all the questions confidently and correctly.

In the first tutorial, Using Sources, Five Scenarios, you work through examples based, in part, on real academic honesty cases. Upon completing the tutorial, you will be acquainted with the most common misunderstandings about academic integrity, and you will know more about how to integrate sources responsibly into your writing.

You’ll then be ready for the second tutorial, Using Sources, Five Examples. The examples, which are based on passages from real student essays, illustrate problems with summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources. By taking the tutorial, you gain a deeper understanding of the most common forms of plagiarism and a solid sense of how to use sources effectively.

Links to The Harvard Guide to Using Sources are provided throughout each tutorial. The guide offers a comprehensive discussion of issues relevant to academic integrity. Clicking on the links gives you an opportunity to further develop your knowledge of how to use sources—and it helps you avoid the kinds of problems that can lead to a charge of plagiarism and a required withdrawal from the Harvard Extension School.

The Writing Center

The Harvard Extension School Writing Center offers individual tutoring appointments to help you with your writing assignments and offer advice on the proper use of sources. Visit the site to schedule an appointment. 

Citation Management Software

If you are interested in citation management software, you can read more about your options on the Harvard Library website. They also provide a form to request help with citation software on that page.

Guidelines for Using Sources Effectively and Responsibly

  1. All sources must be cited, including not only print books and scholarly articles, but anything you borrow to craft your assignment. This includes primary sources, such as letters, diaries, federal documents, music, and films. It includes online sources for programming and coding challenges. Also includes secondary sources, such as online books, online articles, websites, instructor’s lectures, and open source websites with no identifiable author, like Wikipedia. If you didn’t write it (or create it), cite it. 
  2. Be sure you understand the assignment. Read the directions carefully to learn if your instructor wants you to use outside sources for an assignment. If your instructor doesn’t, don’t. Once you start surfing the Internet for ideas, it is more difficult to distinguish your thoughts and words from online sources. If your instructor does want you to use outside sources, clarify the citation style (e.g., MLA or APA).
  3. Give yourself plenty of time to succeed. Don’t take on too much or procrastinate. When you are overwhelmed with multiple demands or run out of time, you can be tempted to hand in an assignment that is not cited properly. The consequences of plagiarism are far greater than the consequences of handing in an assignment late.
  4. When using sources in academic writing, be methodical, not haphazard. Always—starting with the first draft—include the reference information when you are adding quoted or paraphrased material in your paper. Adding sources is not the final cleanup activity; it is an essential first step.
  5. When writing an academic paper, you are joining an intellectual conversation, not observing one. The goal is not to string a bunch of quotes from experts together, but to actively engage with the material and to add your unique voice.