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Format & Cite: Citing Basics

Information about formatting research papers and citing sources

Tips for Citing Sources

It's important to make sure you collect all the information you need to cite a source as you gather your information so that you won't need to look it up again, so:

  • Take clear, accurate notes about where you found specific ideas
  • Write down the complete citation information for each book, article, etc. you use as you go along
  • Use quotation marks when directly stating another person's words
  • Always credit original authors for their information and ideas

Why Cite?

This three-min. video from The Harness Library illustrates why it's important for you to cite your sources. Watch, Learn, and Enjoy!

Citation Generators

Library databases provide citations that you can copy and past into your works cited list. For other sources you'll need to create a citation by hand or with the help of a citation generator, like the ones below. Note that the citations from databases and the generators often contain errors. Check your citations against the library's handout or a reputable source like Purdue's OWL guide before submitting them.  

Citing Sources Matters

When you write a research paper, you use information and facts from a variety of resources to support your own ideas or to help you develop new ones. Books, articles, videos, interviews, and Web sites are some examples of sources you might use.

Citing these sources of information in your work is essential because:

  • It gives credit to the author of the original work who provided you with the information or idea
  • It allows your audience to identify and find the source material in order to learn more about your topic
  • It gives your paper more credibility because it shows you're supporting your arguments with high-quality source. It also helps earn your readers' trust because you're telling your readers the source of your facts so that they can confirm them for themselves
  • It helps you avoid plagiarism

What Do You Cite?

Cite all outside sources you use in your research paper! Citing is required for sources you quote word-for-word, for sources you paraphrase (rewrite using your own words), and for sources from which you summarize ideas within your work.

Where to Cite:

You need to cite your sources in two places:

  • Within your work at the place where you are incorporating the information.
  • In a comprehensive list of all sources you’ve cited throughout the paper.


‚ÄčCiting Within the Text of Your Paper:

Direct Quote Example

The quote below appears exactly as it does in Joanna Santa Barbara's article on child-rearing in the Encyclopedia of Violence Peace and Conflict

“Adjusted data from seven U.S. surveys between 1968 and 1994 show a decline in approval of disciplinary spanking from 94% to 68%, or 26 percentage points in 26 years” (Santa Barbara 243).

Tip: Use direct quotations selectively. In fact, the MLA Handbook advises you to quote only those words, phrases, lines, and passages that are particularly interesting, vivid, unusual, or apt."


Paraphrase Example

This sentence takes the information above and puts it into the author’s own words.

Studies show that Americans are becoming more critical of the concept of spanking children. Between 1968 and 1994 the so-called “approval rating” of spanking children dropped from 94% to 68% (Santa Barbara 243).


Summarize Example

The sentence below distills the main idea of the original information. 

Studies have shown that Americans just don't approve of spanking like they used to (Santa Barbara 243).


Citation Style Affects Your Paper in Three Places

Whenever you use a citation style (ANY citation style!) you will be governed by that style in three ways:

  1. The general format of the paper. This includes margins, font, page numbers, line spacing, titles, headings, etc.
  2. The bibliography. The bibliography is the cumulative list of all sources used in your research. 
  3. In-text citation. Citing sources within the body of your paper lets your reader know you are incorporating someone else's words/research/ideas.


Accuracy & Precision:

Citation styles present researchers with a set of strict rules....not vague guidelines. Accuracy and precision are vital to the citation process. Always check your work carefully to ensure you've followed all conventions, including font styles, capitalization, punctuation, alphabetization, and format concerns.