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Lesson 18: Citing the Source for an Entire Paragraph

Sometimes, you may write a paragraph like this:

The Cold War was a rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States that lasted for more than forty years. Both sides engaged in an arms race. Both sides gave military and financial assistance to small countries in an effort to gain power and influence. Sometimes, the military aid fueled proxy wars such as in Korea and Vietnam.

In the above paragraph, I have not cited any source because all the information is “general knowledge” and none of what I have said is controversial.

However, consider the following paragraph:

President John Kennedy used the Cold War to gain political advantage. He didn’t actually believe that communism was a threat to the United States; he simply knew that being “tough on communism” was a stance that helped him win elections. In 1961, Kennedy sent U.S. troops to Vietnam so that he could claim that he was fighting communism. Apparently, winning re-election was more important than the lives of American soldiers.

In the above paragraph, much of what I said is controversial. (Not everyone would agree that Kennedy sent troops to Vietnam simply because he thought it would help him win re-election). Furthermore, many people might not even know that Kennedy sent troops to Vietnam in 1961. That fact is not “general knowledge.” For these reasons, it would be a good idea to cite some source for the information in the paragraph.

Here is the exact same paragraph, with a parenthetical citation at the end:

President John Kennedy used the Cold War to gain political advantage. He didn’t actually believe that communism was a threat to the United States. He simply knew that being “tough on communism” was a stance that helped him win elections. In 1961, Kennedy sent U.S. troops to Vietnam so that he could claim that he was fighting communism. Apparently, winning re-election was more important than the lives of American soldiers (McAddams).

By citing “McAddams” as the source of the information in the paragraph, I am telling the reader: “Hey, if you don’t believe everything I’ve written in that paragraph, check out the article by McAddams that I’ve included in the Works Cited page. This article will convince you that everything I’ve said is true.”

Of course, if only one sentence in your paragraph is controversial (or contains a little-known fact), then place your parenthetical citation directly after that sentence, like this:

President Kennedy took an active stance against communism. He increased spending on nuclear missiles and he sent military advisors to Vietnam (McAddams). After his assassination, Johnson continued many of Kennedy’s policies.

Again, imagine that you are a lawyer presenting your case in court. The opposing lawyer is going to try to pick holes in your case by challenging everything you say. “Where is the evidence for that claim?” she will say, again and again. “And where is your evidence for that claim?”

Make sure that you are a well-prepared lawyer. Never say anything unless you can back it up with evidence. And make sure that all your evidence is properly cited.

Check Your Understanding:

  1. What does it mean when a writer cites a source at the end of the paragraph?
  2. True or False: You can use someone else’s exact words, as long as you cite the source at the end of the paragraph.

Quiz: MLA 18