Research Planning 101

Photo: How I Did It from Stephen Poff on Flickr


By now you've:

  • asked a research question;
  • explored for information to help answer your question;
  • gathered information resources; and
  • chosen the sources that are best for your project.

Now it's time to use that information.

Academic Ethics

After you've read the information you found, perhaps taking notes as you go, the final part of the research process is to write, or otherwise create, your own answer to the question.

By demonstrating in your paper or project that you've inquired into other peoples' ideas and findings, you build a case for your own conclusions: you show what information led you to those conclusions.

You may also use other peoples' graphics, photographs, charts, or other evidence, to illustrate and add impact to your own conclusions.

Usually you will do this by "citing" other peoples' work.

Photo: Bibliography by gadl from Flickr.

Is it ok to use other people's work?

Absolutely. Using and incorporating the work of others in your own work is acceptable in research, IF you let your audience know when you are using someone else's ideas, and where you found the information you're using.

This is called citing.

Citing is required when you use other peoples' ideas!

When you don't cite what you use, you are considered guilty of plagiarism.

Instead, use your own ideas to form an argument, then paraphrase or quote others materials to support your argument AND cite the source.

Photo: Index Card by Reeding Lessons from Flickr.


There's one more issue to consider when you use other peoples' work, and create your own.

Copyright law protects the rights of creators and authors of materials.

It's a complicated topic, but one that you'll want to become familiar with at some point.

When you are using another person's work, there are legal consequences for violating another person's copyrights.

For more information, see the Library's web pages on copyright.

Why Cite?

It's also important to know that scholars and students are expected to use a recognized, consistent style for citing other peoples' work.

This makes it easier for your reader to understand your sources and go back and look at them if they are interested.

Some of the commonly used citation styles at Cal Poly are American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) citation styles.

Find out if your professor has a preferred citation style. Then use it consistently within your paper.

Cite Everything You Use

Information comes in all forms. There are accepted ways of citing all of it, including:

  • Books
  • Articles from journals
  • Newspaper articles
  • Web sites
  • Email communications
  • Personal conversations
  • Images

You can find the rules for citing all these types of materials in citation manuals or online, or you can ask a librarian for help.

For more information, see the Kennedy Library's citation web pages.

How Citing Works

All citation systems require you to do two things: cite your sources as you refer to them throughout your essay, and provide a full list of all sources consulted (called reference list or bibliography) at the end of your paper.

The most common type of citation system is:

Parenthetical or In-Text Citation Systems

These require you to acknowledge the source of a quotation or concept by:

  • placing information about the source in parentheses at the end of the relevant sentence within the text of the document
  • listing all your sources in a bibliography (aka reference list or works cited list) at the end of the paper

The image to the right is an example of a good way to cite someone else's ideas.

The source is given credit both in the text, and in the list of references.

You shouldn't just cut and paste a reference citation from a database: you need to translate it into your chosen citation style.

The image to the right shows a source from Academic Search Elite.

This is how you would cite it, using APA style:

Chan, F.; Barth, J. A.; Lubchenco, J.; Kirincich, A.; Weeks, H.; Peterson, W. T.; Menge, B. A. (2008). Emergence of Anoxia in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Preview. Science, 319(5865),920.
Retrieved February 6, 2009 from the Academic Search Elite database.

Academic Search Elite source: Emergence of Anoxia in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem.Preview By: Chan, F.; Barth, J. A.; Lubchenco, J.; Kirincich, A.; Weeks, H.; Peterson, W. T.; Menge, B. A.. Science, 2/15/2008, Vol. 319 Issue 5865, p920-920, 1p, 1 graph; (AN 31185791)

Citation software can help.

Software tools, including several free tools, are available to help with painstaking process of formatting citations correctly.

Citation (or "bibliographic") software will also help you keep track of sources you've used.

It will even help you incorporate sources properly into a nicely formatted bibliography.

The Cal Poly library offers tips on which software to use and how to use it.

What's plagiarism?

Plagiarism is representing someone else's work as your own original work.

In universities, plagiarism, whether by students, faculty, or others is considered academic dishonesty. Students found guilty of plagiarism may be sanctioned by the university.

For more information, see the information on plagiarism provided by the Cal Poly Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities.

Photo: Paris, 12e arrondissement by mainblanche on Flickr.


  • borrowing an idea, an opinion, a song, an image, a research finding, or other creative work, without giving the original creator credit
  • restating or paraphrasing a passage without citing the original author
  • putting your name on a paper you bought or someone else wrote

For more a more detailed description of plagiarism check out Purdue University's plagiarism site.

Photo: napkin plagiarism by jodigreen on Flickr.

Tips to Help Avoid Plagiarism:

  • Take careful notes. When you cut and paste or write notes, be sure to add the citation, including page numbers.
  • Use quotations when copying the words of an author.
  • Give credit to the original author in the text and list of sources of your work.
  • Plan ahead, don't procrastinate. You're more likely to plagiarize accidentally when you're in a rush, and citing takes more time than just copying.

Photo: Excitements by Scientific deliriums on Flickr.

Plagiarism is taken seriously at Cal Poly because:

"Creativity is essential to the successful professional… Students cannot be content to cite only the information they learned prior to graduation. Synthesizing material and evaluating perspectives in class assignments provides training that will help students adapt to unforeseeable intellectual demands throughout their careers."

"Citing other sources establishes the student’s membership in the community of scholars. These sources provide starting points for the student’s own creative work and give the reader some resources for further investigation."

Cal Poly Office or Student Rights & Responsibilities (2009)

Photo: This Way Out by shallowend on Flickr.

You have reached the end of Research Planning 101.

For more information about the research process, you may find it helpful to review more tutorials related to planning your research.

Kennedy Library staff and librarians are here to help you with every phase of your research process and planning. All your questions are welcome.

Doing research is challenging and we're here to help!

Photo: I've got two words for you... by emdot on Flickr.

Credits / Colophon