Citing Sources: An Overview
Citing in academic writing serves a variety of purposes. First, it holds you accountable to your research and clarifies what you wrote and what someone else wrote. This avoids the problem of plagiarism, because you've given credit to those whose research you used. Second, proper citation differentiates where your sources leave off and your own ideas begin. Writing is a lot of work, and you've thought long and hard about your topic – make sure you get credit for your ideas and connections. Third, it builds your ethos as a writer.
When a reader knows that the writer conducted research into a subject, the reader can be confident that they're reading credible information. Read this overview about the reasons we cite and the different types of citation styles used in academic writing.
Why Citing is Important
It is important to cite sources you used in your research for several reasons:
- To show your reader you've done proper research by listing sources you used to get your information
- To be a responsible scholar by giving credit to other researchers and acknowledging their ideas
- To avoid plagiarism by quoting words and ideas used by other authors
- To allow your reader to track down the sources you used by citing them accurately in your paper by way of footnotes, a bibliography or reference list
Citing a source means that you show, within the body of your text, that you took words, ideas, figures, images, etc. from another place.
Citations are a short way to uniquely identify a published work (e.g. book, article, chapter, web site). They are found in bibliographies and reference lists and are also collected in article and book databases.
Citations consist of standard elements, and contain all the information necessary to identify and track down publications, including:
- author name(s)
- titles of books, articles, and journals
- date of publication
- page numbers
- volume and issue numbers (for articles)
Citations may look different, depending on what is being cited and which style was used to create them. Choose an appropriate style guide for your needs. Here is an example of an article citation using four different citation styles. Notice the common elements as mentioned above:
Author - R. Langer
Article Title - New Methods of Drug Delivery
Source Title - Science
Volume and issue - Vol 249, issue 4976
Publication Date - 1990
Page numbers - 1527-1533
American Chemical Society (ACS) style:
Langer, R. New Methods of Drug Delivery. Science 1990, 249, 1527-1533.
Langer",New Methods of Drug Delivery",Science, vol. 249, pp. 1527-1533, SEP 28, 1990.
American Psychological Association (APA) style:
Langer, R. (1990). New methods of drug delivery. Science, 249 (4976), 1527-1533.
Modern Language Association (MLA) style:
Langer, R. "New Methods of Drug Delivery". Science 249.4976 (1990): 1527-33.
What to Cite
You must cite:
- Facts, figures, ideas, or other information that is not common knowledge
- Ideas, words, theories, or exact language that another person used in other publications
- Publications that must be cited include: books, book chapters, articles, web pages, theses, etc.
- Another person's exact words should be quoted and cited to show proper credit
When in doubt, be safe and cite your source!
Plagiarism occurs when you borrow another's words (or ideas) and do not acknowledge that you have done so. In this culture, we consider our words and ideas intellectual property; like a car or any other possession, we believe our words belong to us and cannot be used without our permission.
Plagiarism is a very serious offense. If it is found that you have plagiarized – deliberately or inadvertently – you may face serious consequences. In some instances, plagiarism has meant that students have had to leave the institutions where they were studying.
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to cite your sources – both within the body of your paper and in a bibliography of sources you used at the end of your paper.
Source: MIT Libraries, https://libguides.mit.edu/citing
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