For many students, documenting sources in an age where information is widely available and easily accessible can seem like an inconvenience. Thus, many downplay the importance of citing sources when they write assignments. Here are some key reasons, though, why documentation of all sources in any assignment is important.
Acknowledging sources prevents plagiarism
Citing sources prevents plagiarism, the unacknowledged use of someone else's information, research or ideas. Copying another student's assignment, copying a passage from a book or website and passing it off as one's own, or even snatching illustrations on the Internet that are not part of the public domain all qualify as plagiarism.
Documentation prevents a number of undesirable consequences
At colleges and universities the consequences of being caught for plagiarism could be detrimental to the student's future. A student, for example, could get a grade of zero on the assignment (and a failure in the course that could result). The occurrence of plagiarism could also be noted on an academic transcript and the student could be suspended for a semester. In some cases, a student could even be expelled from the school.
Citing Sources is professional and ethical
Using and acknowledging credible sources in an academic paper can certainly help provide for a textured discussion and enhance the level of argument in student work. It conveys to the reader that the writer has taken the time to consult and consider a mix of viewpoints on a given topic before providing his/her own synthesis. The act of acknowledging those sources, then, is part of the professionalism that adds to the quality of the paper.
When students give credit where credit is due they are also practicing ethical, responsible academic behavior, a skill that will stand them in good stead for their future work lives where they may have to produce research-based documents. Imagine the consequences of being caught stealing someone else's work or ideas at the workplace.
These are some of the key reasons why it is important to cite sources. With so much information readily available, it is easy to cut and paste. But, documentation is one academic requirement that will not disappear any time soon. And practicing it will help you develop good professional and ethical habits for all researched work.