Why We Cite
In essence, we cite sources because this lets us join and participate in an ongoing scholarly conversation with other scholars. When we cite, then, we let others know where our information came from, and how our ideas are connected to those of other researchers.
When to Cite
Citation, or attribution, is necessary whenever you want to incorporate the ideas or the works of others into your own writing. You can use someone else’s ideas in a number of ways, but the most common are:
- Direct quotes are usually surrounded by double, or single, quotation marks to represent that you are using someone else’s ideas word-for-word.
- Paraphrasing is used whenever you want to state what an author said in your own words. Paraphrases do not require quotation marks, and can only be identified by in-text citations or footnotes.
- Summaries are used whenever you talk about, or summarize, the main points of someone else’s work. Like paraphrasing, summaries do not require quotation marks but have to be followed by an in-text citation or a footnote to be identified.
Citation Steps for All Styles
Regardless of which citation style you have to use in your writing, there are a few things to keep in mind as you do your research and begin to write. Following these reminders will also help you stay organized as you begin to identify sources for your research.
- Identify the citation style required for your paper or project. This information can be found in your assignment description, or by consulting with your professor. If necessary, consult an online guide or a handbook to refresh your memory about the formatting rules for the style you’ll be using. (More information about these below.)
- Add in-text citations as early as possible. Regardless of the length of your project, this is a good habit to develop. Adding citations as you write will make it easier for you to keep track of the sources that you cite, and it will be harder to forget where you found a quote or an idea that you wanted to paraphrase.
- Identify the information source type (book, article, video, magazine, etc.) you are citing. Even with all the differences between styles, they all require the same basic information. If you are able to identify these three things, you are well on your way to having a complete citation. All that you need now is to follow the guidelines of the style you are using.
- Information about who wrote the information: author, website name, etc.
- Information about where the information was published: title of book, title of journal, name of website, etc.
- Information about when the information was published: place of publication, date of publication, etc.
- List all the sources you cited at the end of your paper or project. This section, which has a different name under each citation style, is one of the last things you’ll do in any research project. This step goes a lot faster if you have kept a record of the sources you cited, or are using a citation manager (more on this below).
Published by the American Psychological Association, APA style is often used by scholars and researchers in fields like psychology, political science, nursing, business, among others. In-text citations are formatted to allow the reader to easily follow ideas while also providing information about the sources that were used to support the arguments being made.
Published by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago style comes in two varieties:
- Notes and Bibliography: This variation is used in fields like history, religion, and arts. Unlike MLA or APA, this variation does not use in-text citations. Instead, sources are cited in numbered footnotes or endnotes.
- Author-Date: This variation is used in the sciences and social sciences, and it uses in-text citations similar to APA and MLA.
Named after the Modern Language Association, who is also the publisher of the style manual, the MLA citation style is used primarily by scholars and researchers in the fields of literature and languages. In-text citations are formatted in a way that allows the reader to easily follow ideas while also providing information about how to locate additional information that might be relevant to them.
Citation generators, which can be found in a number of research databases, are tools that let you create a citation in a format of your choice. These tools are relatively accurate, but it’s always important to double check their work before including it in your bibliography or works cited. Before using any of these tools, it’s important to make sure that they have the most current style available or they provide help for the citation style you are using in your assignment. Know that not all citation generators offer all citation styles nor do they offer the most recent edition.
Most of the library’s databases have a citation generator, this includes the library search interface. However, the citation generator is not always located in the same place nor is it labeled similarly. More often than not, there will be a button or a link labeled “CITE” or have a quotation mark icon to indicate where the citation tool is located.
Both Microsoft Word and Google Docs have citation tools built into their features that make inserting in-text citations and creating bibliographies/works cited relatively quick and simple.
Microsoft Word’s citation generator is found under the toolbar section called “References,” and the “Insert Citation” tool allows you to add information about each source you intend to include in your research project.
The citation generator in Google Docs, which has less features than that of Word, is located under the “Tools” menu item on the toolbar.
Citation Management Tools
Citation management tools are similar to citation generators, but they provide a broader set of features that can be quite useful in larger research projects. These citation managers enable you to store, organize, annotate, and share your references. They can also integrate with word processors, like Word and Google Docs, to automatically insert in-text citations and format bibliographies.
There are a number of citation managers available, some of which are free-to-use and some of which require a subscription. These are the most common free-to-use citation managers:
When choosing to use a citation manager, it might be useful to consult with your professors. It may be that a particular citation manager is more popular and useful in a particular field.