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In college writing, a citation indicates a source of information. Its goals are to inform readers that certain material in the work came from an outside source and to help them identify and find the source of that material.

A citation provides the following information:

  • Author of the source material
  • Title of the work
  • Name of the publisher
  • Date and place of publication
  • Page numbers of the borrowed material

When Are Citations Required?

Whenever an author borrows words or ideas, they need to acknowledge their sources. Citations are required under the following circumstances:

  • Whenever quotes are used
  • Whenever a source of information is paraphrased
  • Whenever the author uses an idea that has already been expressed by someone else
  • Whenever there is a specific reference to someone else’s work
  • Whenever someone else’s work has influenced the development of the author’s own ideas

Why Are Citations Important?

Citations are crucial in academic writing for the following reasons:

  • Proper citation adds credibility to academic writing and supports the author’s argument with proper evidence.
  • Citations reflect the amount of research done by the author.
  • Citations emphasize the originality of a piece of writing.
  • Citations give readers the opportunity to further explore the topic on their own.
  • Lack of proper citation can lay the author open to charges of plagiarism.
  • Citations are extremely helpful to readers who want to find out more about the author’s ideas and where they came from.
  • Not all sources are good or accurate – the author’s own ideas are sometimes more interesting or accurate than those of their sources. Proper citation keeps authors from being criticized for someone else’s bad ideas.

Citation Styles

A citation style is a set of rules on how to cite sources in academic writing. Citation style guidelines are usually published in an official handbook that also offers detailed explanations and examples. There are 3 major citation styles used in academic writing:

  1. Modern Language Association (MLA) style – used in the humanities, languages, and literature
  2. American Psychological Association (APA) style – used in the social sciences
  3. Chicago style – used in history and occasionally in the social sciences

All of the above citation styles require the author to include important elements from their sources. These elements include author, title, publisher as well as place and date of publication. MLA and APA styles, however, use slightly different formats for these citation elements.

The citation style that an author chooses is generally dictated by the discipline in which they are writing. And students are required to follow their professor’s instructions. Depending on the citation style used, there are 2 ways in which information can be cited in a document.

1. In-text or Parenthetical Citations

An in-text citation is a reference made to another source within the body of a text. It informs the reader that another source has contributed to the author’s own writing. The exact format of an in-text citation depends on the style guide used by the author. In most cases, an in-text citation only includes the last name of the source author, date of publication of the source, and page number from which the paraphrase or quotation is taken; the complete reference can be found in the bibliography or works cited page at the end of the document.

In-text citations usually appear in parentheses immediately after the paraphrase or quote in order to be easily identified by the reader. They may sometimes also appear as a superscript number, with the corresponding number listed in the bibliography. In-text citations work in conjunction with a bibliography, which is found at the end of the document.       

2. Reference or Complete Citations

A complete citation is the full entry that appears in the bibliography, reference list, or works cited section at the back of research papers, articles, books, or web pages. It can also appear individually as a footnote at the bottom of the relevant page instead of together with other citations at the end of the document. A full citation contains all the information a reader needs to be able to locate the source.

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A citation provides information about outside sources that have contributed to an academic text.
A citation provides information about outside sources that have contributed to an academic text.