Citing sources accurately is an important aspect of academic writing. Though citations may vary depending on the type of resource and writing style, the purpose of citations is to uniquely identify sources so that information can be shared easily and used ethically.
The basic parts of a citation each help to identify the source and usually include elements such as author, title, publisher name and location, series information (volume, issue, or edition), date of publication, and location within the text or website. Additional elements such as a DOI or distributor may be added to further uniquely identify certain types of resources.
Remember, if you are writing for a class or for publication, your instructor or publisher is always the final authority to consult for determining which style to use as well as for determining the proper format for a specific citation.
Parts of a Citation
Citations almost always have two parts. The embedded (or in-text) citation alerts the audience that an external source of information is present and points them to a specific entry on a comprehensive list of sources by uniquely identifying the work or creator.
The list of cited sources, sometimes called a reference list or works cited page, is the second part of the citation. The list contains all information needed to accurately identify and access the same source that was cited within the body of the work.
Both parts of the citation are important!
When to Cite
Anytime the work or idea of another is used it should be given proper credit through the inclusion of a citation.
There are primarily two methods of using outside sources in your work, quoting and paraphrasing, and both methods require that a two-part citation be included in order to identify the source. When questioning whether or not to cite a source, consider the following:
Is the information you want to use from the source a fact, figure, or idea?
Is the information something that would not be considered "common knowledge"?
Are you including the source's exact language, or presenting the concept in a identical way?
Are you borrowing heavily from the source's material in order to form your own ideas?
Are you using any part of an original creative work such as an image, sound, or clip?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, it is likely that a citation is needed. When in doubt, remember it is better to include a citation than to leave it out and risk plagiarism.
If you still have questions after reading this guide, try one of the resources below.