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Citing Sources

Why Do We Cite Our Research?

Sources of information are cited in order to give the original authors/creators proper credit for their work, and to document where an author heard or read the fact or idea that has been incorporated into a new work. The purpose of citations is to let the reader know where you obtained information so sources can easily be located and consulted.

Because knowledge is a cumulative process built on the research and writing of other researchers, your instructor needs to see the quality of the sources you used and know how developed your ideas.

What Information Should Be Cited and Why?

In general, you must document sources when you provide information that you ordinarily would not have known before conducting your research, and when you provide information that it cannot be assumed the reader knows. You must cite a reference when you:

  • Discuss, summarize, or paraphrase the ideas of an author
  • Provide a direct quotation
  • Use statistical or other data

While you are doing research and locating sources, be sure to document materials thoroughly, noting the author, title, publisher, place of publication, date, and page numbers of all sources used. For electronic materials, you should also note the DOI number (Digital Object Identifier) if available. Note the URL of any website you consult; depending on the source, you may need it for the reference.

APA style no longer requires a database name for most references; MLA style still requires it as part of your citation. In either case, you may want to note it on your print-out of the article in case you need to retrieve it at a later date.

Common Knowledge

Things that are common knowledge do not require citation. For example:

  • Social networking sites such as Facebook allow people to communicate easily regardless of their location. (does not require citation)
  • The Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. (does not require citation)

However, if someone draws an original conclusion from a common fact, then you must cite the source:

  • The ability to share real-time news and video with the world via social networking sites has emboldened student movements in countries where there is very little freedom of the press. (requires citation)
  • Japan's failure to sink any U.S. aircraft carriers in the otherwise devastating attack on Pearl Harbor assured Japan's eventual defeat. (requires citation)

Also, common sayings or proverbs need not be cited:

  • "The early bird gets the worm." (common expression with no distinct origin)

Below is famous saying you might recognize, but it's actually from a poem by Sir Walter Scott. If you read this in a book, of course you would cite the book. If you already knew this expression, you should still give Sir Walter Scott credit for it.

  • "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

Understanding Citations

Do you know the parts of a citation? Can you recgonize them even when a citation is in an unfamiliar style? Can you identify whether a given citation is for a book, book chapter, or journal article? This short tutorial will help you master the basics of citations.

Understanding Citations Tutorial

Used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

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