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Specific facts that never change–such as the law of thermodynamics, an equation, or the date of an event–do not need citation. You could state in a paper, without citation, that George Lucas directed Star Wars, that the film appeared in 1977, and that it was highly successful. You do not need a citation for Lucas’ full name (George Walton Lucas, Jr.), birthdate (May 14, 1944), or place of birth (Modesto, California). If, however, you draw on an author’s argument about why the original Star Wars movie was so popular–its themes, its use of special effects, or the political or cultural moment in which it appeared–then a citation is needed. Likewise, an estimate of the current value of Lucas’ fortune is debatable information, since estimates could vary, so you need to cite a source.19
A citation can be technically correct but intellectually dishonest. Consider the following use of our earlier quotation from Kenneth Burke: Scholarly debates get “too heated . . . and no one present is qualified.”20 This is not a case of plagiarism; the quotation and citation are correct. But anyone who reads the original passage will see that Burke’s ideas are being grossly misconstrued.
When in doubt, cite.
You could more accurately represent Burke’s point with longer direct quotations:
According to Burke, the debate becomes “too heated for [participants] to pause and tell you . . . what it is about,” and since the conversation began long ago, “no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before."21
Ellipses ( . . . ) can hide crucial information, so when using them be careful not to change the meaning of the source. You must represent others’ views as accurately as possible and you should not misstate them to advance your own point.