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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

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 Excelsior OWL guide before submitting them.  

Citing Sources Matters

To write a research paper, you need information and facts from sources like books, articles, videos, interviews, and Web sites...  to support your own ideas or to help you develop new ones

Citing these sources in your work is essential to:

  • Gives credit to the author of the original work who provided you with the information or idea
  • Allows your audience to identify and find the source material in order to learn more about your topic
  • Gives your paper more credibility by showing that your facts come from reliable sources
  • Helps you avoid plagiarism

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

What Do You Cite?

Cite all outside sources!

1. Citing is required every time you:

  • Quote word-for-word, 
  • Paraphrase (rewrite using your own words)
  • summarize ideas from sources

2. Where to Cite:

  • 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.


​Example of quote within your paper


1. Direct Quote 

This quote 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.


2. Paraphrase 

Example showing the information above wrote in 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).


3. Summarize 

Distillation of 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

ANY citation style will be governed in three ways:


  1. Format: margins, font, page numbers, line spacing, titles, headings, etc.

  2. Bibliography: Cumulative list of all sources used in your research.

  3. In-text citation: Citation of sources, within the body of your paper, informing readers about the incorporation of someone else's words/research/ideas..


Accuracy & precision:


Citations 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.

MLA vs APA Formatting

MLA and APA formatting similarities


  • Placement: The Works Cited list appears at the end of the paper, on its own page(s). If your research paper ends on page 8, your Works Cited begins on page 9. 
  • Arrangement: Alphabetize entries by author's last name. If the source has no named author, alphabetize by the title, ignoring A, An, or The.
  • Spacing: Like the rest of the MLA paper, the Works Cited list is double-spaced throughout. Be sure NOT to add extra spaces between citations.
  • Indentation: To make citations easier to scan, add a hanging indent to any citation that runs more than one line.

MLA and APA formatting differences




  • Title: MLA capitalizes all the major words.                                                                                                                                                                      ​
  • Title: APA uses two types of capitalization for titles:
  1. Title of work (such as paper titles) Capitalize all the major words
  2. Title case: Major words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and all the words of four letters or more)are capitalized and minor words (short words of three letters or less) are lowercase.
  • Running Head: Formal APA rules require a running head, but typically not for student papers. Check with your instructor to see if a running head is expected