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Getting from Citation to Full Text

For help deciphering citations and finding the documents that they reference

Deciphering citations

Academic writing generally cites the sources for ideas and for exact quotations, diagrams, images, etc. taken from other sources. We do this not to commit plagiarism but also to provide a trail of evidence for the ideas that we present in our writing.

Unfortunately, there is no one standard way in which we cite academic literature. There are different conventions ("styles") in different fields, and sometimes different journals and publishers in a single field use different standards. It's very frustrating.

The good news, though, is that the styles have more in common than differences between them. The more academic literature you read, the better you will get at understanding the components of a citation.

Below the diagram are some tips to help you understand the components. If you need further help, please contact your subject librarian.

a few bibliographic citations, with components annotated

  • Citations generally begin with the name(s) of the authors of the work—or, in the case of some books and websites, the editor(s).  Names may be given with the last name (surname) first, especially in an alphabetical list of works.
  • The date of publication usually occurs second or at the very end. Usually just a year is given, but in certain cases, you will find a more specific date.
  • There is usually at least one title (such as the title of a book), though in some cases there will be two titles: for the part and for the whole. For example:
    • the title of a journal article and the title of the journal
    • the title of a book chapter and the title of the book as a whole
    • the title of a book and the title of the series of which it is a part

The title for the part almost always comes first and is more likely to be in quotation marks and not have all words capitalized.  The title for the whole is more likely to be italicized and have all words capitalized.

  • Citations to journal articles, magazine articles, and books in series often include a volume number and perhaps also an issue number in which the work appeared.
  • Citations for books may include the name of the book editor (in case there are different authors for each chapter) and may include information about the particular edition of the book (in case there are multiple versions) and information about where and by whom it was published.

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